Actual Sioux Don’t Have Standing to Preserve “Fighting Sioux” Mascot

Chief_red_cloud_9.jpg

The mascot of the University of North Dakota has, since 1930, been the Fighting Sioux. NCAA considers American Indian nicknames offensive and told UND to find a new nickname or the school would not be allowed to host NCAA postseason tournaments. The North Dakota state board of higher education, which oversees the University of North Dakota, decided early to retire the Fighting Sioux mascot and choose another, which has not yet been announced.

Actual Sioux, however, objected. According to an article in the Grand Forks Herald, members of the Sioux:

Say… the nickname benefits the state’s Sioux people by raising awareness of their history and culture. As Sioux tribal members, they have a right to expect the state honor the settlement’s deadline, not the Oct. 31, 2009, deadline the state board had imposed.

Bahr said the settlement is between the state and the NCAA, not Sioux people in general. The tribes as a whole, rather than their individual members, do have some standing in that they have the right to approve the nickname. The settlement was not intended to benefit individual tribal members.

Douglas A. Bahr, the state attorney representing the North Dakota state board of higher education, basically asked the judge to dismiss the suit from the Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation, who want the UND mascot to remain the Fighting Sioux.

Bahr said the settlement never promised the Sioux anything. He explained that the power of the state board is to run the state universities, “including deciding what nickname is to be used, and that right would be usurped by the court if the restraining order continued.”

Right, because clearly it is far more important to uphold the power of an all-white, nine-member board of political appointees than it is to, say, actually listen to the Sioux, the group that was supposed to be so injured by the existing mascot.

In the history North Dakota by far the least offensive thing ever done with regard to the Sioux Nation was to choose the Fighting Sioux as the mascot for the state’s flagship university. One could argue this is actually a very supportive gesture. The name Dakota is itself a reference to the Dakota branch of the Sioux tribes.

It is also not clear why the NCAA considers Fighting Sioux offensive while it is totally okay with “Fighting Irish,” the mascot of Notre Dame, which makes use of a roughly equivalent ethnic stereotype and arguably has a more offensive logo.

Well if the Sioux ever needed another reason to fight….

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer