North Dakota Gives Up Fight to Call Themselves “The Fighting Sioux”

Posted: August 16, 2011 in Robert J. Romano

After a four year of legal battle, which included a trip to the state’s supreme court, the University of North Dakota will officially retired its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.  The North Dakota state Board of Higher Education has voted unanimously to retire the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname, “approving a motion to have the process ‘substantially complete’ by Dec. 31 2011.”

Critics of the Fighting Sioux name say that it is a racist stereotype, while supporters maintain it is inoffensive and a source of pride. Over the years, the debate has proven to be a divisive issue at the University. The movement to keep the nickname and logo is led by UND alumni, sports fans, and athletic players and officials, as well as the present university administration. The campaign to change the nickname and logo is led by several Native American tribes and student organizations, as well as many UND faculty members. The most powerful ally of those seeking change has become the NCAA.

In fact, the determining factor for changing the name came after a meeting between state and NCAA officials. The NCAA considers the nickname “hostile and offensive” and UND is “under NCAA sanctions for continuing to use” the name.  Additionally, the NCAA has stated that UND cannot host postseason events without approval from the state’s two Sioux tribes. Under the settlement, the board and UND agreed to begin retiring the nickname if they couldn’t obtain permission from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes

Board President Grant Shaft stated: “We have exhausted all avenues.” Shaft said he expects the school “between now and November would recommence the transitioning out of the logo”

In 1999, a bill was introduced in the North Dakota House of Representatives to eliminate the nickname.  In 2000, twenty-one separate Native American-related programs, departments, and organizations at UND signed a statement opposing the continued use of the nickname and logo, saying that it did not honor them or their culture.

However, at such time, former Fighting Sioux hockey player and wealthy alumnus Ralph Engelstad donated $100 million dollars for the construction of the Ralph Engelstad Arena. One of Engelstad’s conditions for his donation was that the University keep the Fighting Sioux name indefinitely and he required the University to place thousands of Fighting Sioux logos in numerous places throughout the arena to make physical removal of the logo very costly. The arena opened in 2001.  Additionally, and what made this matter even more controversial, is that Engelstad has been accused of being sympathetic to Nazism.  He owed a collection of Nazi memorabilia, including a painting of himself dressed in a Nazi uniform (captioned “To Adolf from Ralphie”), a painting of Hitler with the reverse caption, and a collection of antique cars alleged to have once belonged to German Nazi leaders. On April 20 in 1986 and 1988, he hosted parties to celebrate Hitler’s birthday, which featured bartenders in T-shirts reading “Adolf Hitler — European tour 1939-1945”.

The question becomes – what do we call the University of North Dakota sports teams?

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