Between the Lines: Here’s hoping for a monster’s final demise

The University of North Dakota�s Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian head logo is like a zombie in one of those campy B-horror films that can be found televised late on Saturday nights.

Just when you think it�s dead, it keeps coming back.

I first thought the fatal stake had been driven through the zombie�s, er, logo�s heart in early 2009, when I wrote, �Accolades go to Summit League officials who have decided to steer clear of the University of North Dakota. People associated with the UND have for too long ignored the fact that the athletic team�s mascot, logo, or whatever term you want to use � the Fighting Sioux � is offensive to a great number of people who have lived for several generations now in the Great Plains.�

In May of 2009, it looked like the zombie logo�s coffin was sealed when the North Dakota�s Board of Higher Education agreed to drop the University of North Dakota�s Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian head logo.

Just when we thought this issue was dead and buried, the zombie logo thrust its arms through the firmly packed dirt of its burial ground and began to roam the plains once more.

You can thank the North Dakota Legislature for bringing it back to life. The Legislature earlier this year approved a law that requires the board and UND to keep the nickname and logo.

You can also thank North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple along with legislative leaders from that state for perhaps finally putting the zombie logo to rest for good.

The North Dakota governor and leading state lawmakers have said they will ask that the measure to keep the logo and nickname be repealed during a legislative special session in November.

North Dakota�s Board of Higher Education decided on Aug. 15 to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname by year�s end in a move that anticipates lawmakers will indeed repeal the law.

The board agreed unanimously to restart the process of dumping the nickname and a logo depicting an American Indian warrior, symbols that the NCAA contends are offensive.

We continue to be disappointed, however, with the entire context of what we can only describe as a pleasing development.

Ridding the Great Plains of this monstrous zombie logo didn�t come about after an intense session of soul-searching on the part of North Dakota education officials. It has finally come about, for a second time, because once again the university�s athletics program faces various NCAA sanctions and might be excluded from the Big Sky Conference, which it had planned to join.

It took a decades-long campus dispute about whether the name demeans Native Americans, and pressure from the NCAA and the Summit League, and, most recently, Big Sky, to finally convince board members that the nickname and logo are wrong.

In other words, if you think this change represents a generous act of human kindness on the part of North Dakota higher ed personnel, think again.

It�s time to go back in time, to see how this monster was created, and also learn why it�s so difficult to kill. There�s money and a new campus building involved in this mess.

Former Fighting Sioux hockey player and wealthy alumnus Ralph Engelstad made it quite easy for UND officials to ignore all the statements, resolutions and pleas uttered by those who are offended by the mascot.

He donated $100 million dollars for the construction of Ralph Engelstad Arena. This is one of the largest philanthropic donations ever made to a public institution of higher learning. During construction of the arena, Engelstad threatened to abruptly cease work if the nickname was changed.

The day after receiving Engelstad�s threatening e-mail, North Dakota State Board of Higher Education froze discussion on the issue by insisting that the team name remain the same. One of Engelstad�s conditions for his donation was that the university keep the Fighting Sioux name indefinitely.

Engelstad placed thousands of Fighting Sioux logos in numerous places throughout the arena to make physical removal of the logo very costly if attempted. The arena opened in 2001.

The debate reignited in 2005, following a decision by the NCAA to sanction schools with tribal logos and/or nicknames, including UND, that the NCAA deemed to be �hostile and abusive.� On Oct. 26, 2007, a settlement between UND and the NCAA was reached preventing the case from going to trial. The settlement gave UND three years to gain support from the state�s Sioux tribes to keep the monster alive � in other words, to continue to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has officially disapproved of the use of the Sioux logo.

After a long wrangle, though, both sides sat down and negotiated a reasonable agreement: The school could continue to use its mascot if it could win the approval of the state�s two Sioux tribes; otherwise it would have to eliminate the mascot by Aug. 15.

It gets complicated. Some of the Indians liked the name, considering it an honor. Other Native Americans in North Dakota considered the logo to be a stereotype that portrays Indians only in the context of physical aggression.

The zombie has been kept alive all this time, in part, because of court action that kept the logo decision undecided in recent years. Some members of the Spirit Lake tribe sued to keep the mascot, but their case was thrown out of court. A group of Native American students at the university sued to get rid of the name and accompanying logo of a young Sioux man. Written into the new state law is a provision that calls for suing the NCAA if it imposes any penalties.

In all sports, there�s one thing we all can count on. There are rules that must be followed. In football, for example, one can�t simply change a rule they don�t like. In fact, one can be penalized for not acting properly on the field.

One would think that North Dakota students and alumni who insist that the logo of their institution�s athletics remain �the Fighting Sioux� would also be able to understand that just because you don�t like a rule you should be able to break it.

The North Dakota Legislature should have known better, too, when it passed that silly law earlier this year.

We can understand there is a wide range of emotions involved here. Over the years, many people, it appears, have grown fond of the zombie in their midst.

It�s time, however, for reason to trump sentiment. It�s time for the law that keeps the zombie logo alive to be repealed.

It�s the 21st century. Surely it�s time for UND to find a more fitting, less controversial athletic symbol.

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