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North Dakota Fighting Sioux logo

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Fighting Sioux name is back, but debate lives

  • Article by: DALE WETZEL
  • Associated Press
  • February 8, 2012 - 11:09 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. - The University of North Dakota resumed using its contentious Fighting Sioux nickname Wednesday even though it triggered NCAA sanctions, leaving some fans weary of the seven-year fight over a moniker that critics believe is demeaning.

A law requiring the school to use its longtime nickname and logo, which shows the profile of an American Indian warrior, was repealed eight months after it took effect last year in a bid to help the university avoid NCAA sanctions. But ardent nickname supporters filed petitions with more than 17,000 signatures late Tuesday, demanding that the issue be put to a statewide vote.

As part of that process, the law -- which the university, the state Board of Higher Education and local lawmakers oppose -- temporarily goes back into effect. An NCAA spokesman said Wednesday that means the school won't host championship events, and its athletes will be barred from wearing uniforms with the nickname or logo in NCAA postseason play.

"As soon as that petition was filed last night, the law reverts," University President Robert Kelley told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "I don't want to violate the law."

Still, the decision frustrated some fans and alumni who have watched the fight drag on since 2005, when the NCAA prodded 19 schools to get rid of American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots that it considered "hostile and abusive" to Indians. The University of North Dakota is the only school left where the issue is in serious dispute.

"It's getting pretty tiresome, even for a pretty gung-ho nickname supporter," said 36-year-old alumnus Shawn Carlson, who lives in Fargo, 80 miles south of the UND campus in Grand Forks.

Former Fighting Sioux football player Ross Almlie, 39, agreed: "I'd have just as much pride for the university with or without the nickname and logo. Put me in the camp that believes we have bigger fish to fry."

Since the repeal, the school has moved to retire the nickname and logo, dropping references to them from websites and changing Internet addresses that referred to the Fighting Sioux. The Indian profile was replaced by a new logo showing the interlocked letters N and D.

However, nickname supporters revived the issue anew by filing referendum petitions that they said had more than 17,000 signatures. They need a minimum of 13,452 signatures from eligible North Dakota voters to qualify for the June ballot.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger has about a month to scrutinize the petitions and decide whether they meet legal standards. He then will decide whether the referendum should go on the June ballot.

Kelley said the university's men's and women's hockey teams and the women's basketball team have a chance for NCAA tournament play in the coming months, and he wasn't yet sure how the teams would be affected.

"But clearly, by being mandated by state law to be Fighting Sioux, we are right back to where we were before the repeal," the president said.

The state Board of Higher Education likely will meet with North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on Monday to discuss whether to go to court to block reinstatement of the law, board President Grant Shaft said Wednesday.

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