North Dakota Fighting Sioux To Change School Nickname

Zeke Fuhrman@@mellamoelzekeAnalyst IIIApril 9, 2010

After a vote by the North Dakota State Supreme Court and a Board of Higher Education decision yesterday, the University of North Dakota will no longer be known as the "Fighting Sioux."

After a four-year legal battle about the school's name and mascot, the court ruled that the board had the legal authority to eliminate the school's nickname.

The University of North Dakota was known as the Flickertails until 1930, when it changed its nickname to the Sioux. The name Sioux was chosen due to North Dakota's rich Native American history, as well as the Sioux's ability to hunt Bison—the nickname of rival North Dakota State University in Fargo.

The name "Fighting," was added later on, drawing on inspiration from Notre Dame's Fighting Irish, another school with the initials UND.

The school insignia, a Native American, was designed by Bennett Brien, a UND graduate and descendant of the Ojibwe tribe.

Another similar case to UND's was the University of Illinois.

The Illinois Fighting Illini, had Chief Illiniwek, as their mascot from 1926-2007. Beginning in the 1980s, critics began to see Chief Illiniwek as a distasteful representation and a racial stereotype towards Native Americans.

Illinois repealed its mascot, with Chief Illiniwek making his final appearance at the 2006-07 men's basketball home finale. The NCAA allowed Illinois to keep its Illini nickname.

Other sports clubs and franchises have Native American influences, including the NFL's Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs, the NCAA's Florida State Seminoles, and MLB's Cleveland Indians.

Personally, I find the nickname "Redskins," more distasteful and stereotypical than Fighting Sioux. If there were to be a team called the Washington Negros, people would be flipping their lids.

Fans of UND knew the name change was inevitable. During construction of their new hockey arena, Ralph Engelstad Arena, Ralph Engelstad himself threatened to withdraw funding midway through construction if the university changed its name and logo.

Englelstad had the Fighting Sioux logo strategically placed in thousands of areas in the arena, including the concrete floor in the main concourse.

Supporters say that the Fighting Sioux nickname shows pride and tradition, but the NCAA ruled that the nickname was, "hostile and offensive."

The Ralph Engelstad Arena has not agreed to remove any logos from the arena.

When the NCAA barred universities that use Native Americans as school mascots from hosting major NCAA events or wearing their logos during post-season play, UND sued the NCAA. 

Legal papers filed in support of UND pointed out that the Florida State Seminoles have not been required to change their name, thus raising the possibility that the decision regarding the UND Fighting Sioux was arbitrary and capricious.

In addition, the legal papers noted that UND has a Native American Studies program, Native Americans on its faculty, and a significant Native American student population.

The NCAA settled, with the agreement that UND had three years to gain tribal support from both Sioux Nations in North Dakota to retain the nickname.

The school gained the support of the Spirit Lake Tribe, but not from the Standing Rock Tribe.

In 2007, the Fighting Sioux began to publicize themselves as the "Force of the North," prompting fans to believe that the school was planning on changing their nickname to the UND Force.

However, the founding of the United States Hockey League Team, the Fargo Force in 2008, ended the Force of the North slogan for the Sioux.

UND was Division II until the 2008-09 season, when it was bumped to Division I-AA in all athletics.

The school is known for its hockey team, which has seven national championships, and 18 Frozen Four appearances. UND has many notable alumni, including 2010 Olympic Hockey associate captain Zach Parise and Minnesota Vikings TE Jim Kleinsasser.

The school will retire the nickname by November 30, 2010.


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