Nick Coleman: How many times must the Sioux tell UND no? One more, apparently

  • Article by: NICK COLEMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2007 - 4:18 PM

We may soon witness the biggest meeting between the government and the Sioux Nation around these parts since Minnesota leaders told the Sioux in 1851 to give up their land or soldiers would drive them at gunpoint to the Rocky Mountains, where their children would starve.

We may soon witness the biggest meeting between the government and the Sioux Nation around these parts since Minnesota leaders told the Sioux in 1851 to give up their land or soldiers would drive them at gunpoint to the Rocky Mountains, where their children would starve.

Once again, the Sioux have something white people want. This time, it's their identity.

The long and ludicrous effort by the University of North Dakota to hold on to its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo finally may be nearing an end.

Or not.

A "settlement" in a UND lawsuit against the NCAA, which ordered the university to end the use of the nickname in 2005, was unveiled last month.

The deal was presided over by Judge Lawrence Jahnke, who, it turned out, was a youthful member of a UND pep club that promoted the Sioux nickname and a cartoon stereotype named "Sammy Sioux."

Under Jahnke's deal, UND was given three years to "persuade" Sioux Indians -- the real ones -- to accept the Fighting Sioux name. If not, the university would have to quit its fight to keep the name. It sounds reasonable until you examine it closely. When you do, you see it's the same old, same old.

Sioux tribes have heavily opposed the nickname for years. Just last week, the tribal council on the Standing Rock Reservation (where the legendary Sitting Bull is buried) reiterated its opposition.

But nickname supporters say they have three years to change minds. What part of "no" do they not understand? Apparently, the only good Indian is a compliant Indian.

In many ways, says Clay Jenkinson, the Theodore Roosevelt scholar in residence at Dickinson (N.D.) State University, the Jahnke deal was "the worst possible outcome."

Jenkinson writes a weekly column in the Bismarck Tribune. In his Nov. 4 column, he said the settlement creates "new and entirely unnecessary tension" between whites and Indians.

He said it is "profoundly unfair" to the Lakota and Dakota tribes (also called "Sioux") who are now under pressure to decide whether their name can be screamed at hockey rinks.

A native North Dakotan and humanities professor whose Thomas Jefferson impression was picked as "America's Top Jefferson" last year on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," Jenkinson knows his history, and he says the Sioux are in a Catch-22 situation.

"They will be expected to comply with UND's wishes out of the goodness of their hearts," he wrote.

And if they refuse? "They will become the 'bad guys' responsible for the 'loss' of 'Fighting Sioux. ...' It [is] outrageous to make North Dakota's Indians bear the burden of settling a controversy they didn't create, about a nickname that appropriates their culture without their consent."

I have followed the national team nickname controversy for 20 years and written about UND's intransigence many times, only to be told by North Dakotans that because I am a Minnesotan, and thus a fan of the Golden Gophers, I have no right to speak to the issue.

But I would think the same way about this even if I lived in Mandan.

I do not think North Dakotans are more racist than anyone else. But they have been slow to understand how this looks to the rest of the country, and how it feels on impoverished, isolated Indian reservations to be "honored" so forcefully. Jenkinson, whose university had teams that used to be called Savages but are now Blue Hawks, agrees.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Can the Wild rally to win its playoff series against Colorado?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close