Shunning the 'Fighting Sioux'

September 29, 2005

The National Collegiate Athletic Association on Wednesday upheld its decision last month to include the University of North Dakota on a list of institutions that face restrictions on participation in NCAA championships because they use nicknames deemed “hostile and abusive” to Native Americans.

Since the NCAA announced the policy August 5, it has granted appeals filed by three other institutions -- Central Michigan and Florida State Universities and the University of Utah -- that had also been included on the original list of 18 institutions with mascots, names or other imagery deemed offensive. In all three cases, the universities were able to show that the namesake tribes -- the Chippewas (Central Michigan), Seminoles (Florida State) and Utes -- supported the institutions’ continued use of the name.

North Dakota appealed, too, arguing that the university’s use of the name with “consummate respect” had earned it the support of some Sioux tribes. 

But in a statement Wednesday, the NCAA’s senior vice president for governance and membership, Bernard Franklin, said “the university did not have the support of the three federally recognized Sioux tribes of North Dakota… Information the NCAA received from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe clearly indicates both tribes oppose the university's use of the ‘Fighting Sioux’ nickname and imagery. Several requests made by the NCAA to the Spirit Lake Tribe for clarification on its position went unanswered.” The NCAA also noted that the Board of Directors of the United Tribes of North Dakota, which represents the five federally recognized tribes in the state, including the three Sioux tribes, had “unanimously passed a resolution supporting the NCAA decision.”

Franklin added: "Although the University of North Dakota maintained that its logo and nickname are used with consummate respect, the position of the namesake tribes and those affected by the hostile or abusive environment that the nickname and logo create take precedence. The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not agree.”

The NCAA did make one concession to North Dakota, saying that it would be allowed to play host to a regional Division I hockey championship in March, even though the policy that takes effect in February would normally have precluded that. The university’s arena features a large image of the Fighting Sioux logo atop its entrance (plus a statue of Indian on horseback in its plaza).

“This decision was made because it is not reasonable to cover up or remove all of the Native American imagery in the arena, and the restriction was adopted by the Executive Committee after the contract was awarded to the university. The University of North Dakota will be restricted from hosting future championships in that arena,” Franklin said in his statement.

North Dakota has one more avenue of appeal, but it is to the very same NCAA Executive Committee that adopted the policy and approved the list of banned institutions in the first place.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, President Charles Kupchella said: "Obviously, we do not agree with the decision,and we will continue to press our case throughall of the levels of review and beyond as necessary. Because of the harshness of the words 'hostile' and 'abusive' we have no choice but to pursue an appeal and prove, in a court of law if necessary, that this choice of words was inappropriate, and in no way describes what we do here at the University of North Dakota."

He added: "We must press our case, because to let the charge of hostile and abusive stand would have a chilling effect to prospective faculty, staff, and most importantly, prospective American Indian students we arehere to serve. Even those here opposed to the use of the nickname on campus recognize that UND offers perhaps the best opportunity for many American Indian students to get an education. I would also note, that the schools exempted thus far have been exempted on the basis of a 'special relationship' with American Indian tribes, yet our proportionate number of American Indian students and the number of substantive programs in support of American Indian students exceeds that of all of the exempted schools combined."

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