Fighting Sioux Will Fight No More

The long Indian war is finally over.

Back in 2009 I wrote about the strange case of the Fighting Sioux, the mascot of the University of North Dakota. UND had been the Fighting Sioux since 1930 but in 2009 the NCAA, which considers all American Indian nicknames offensive, ordered the university to find a new nickname or it wouldn’t be allowed to host NCAA postseason tournaments.

The North Dakota state board of higher education, which oversees the University of North Dakota, decided to retire the Fighting Sioux mascot. But lots of people in North Dakota, particularly actual Sioux Indians, wanted to keep the mascot. It looks like it’s over, and the school has to choose a new symbol.

It’s the latest stage in the long fight. First the North Dakota legislature passed a bill in 2011 that required UND to continue use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. But now a measure passed by the people of North Dakota, two to one, repeals the bill and requires the state’s flagship university to change its team name.

According to an article by Nick Smith in the Bismarck Tribune:

Voters made their voices clear Tuesday: it’s time to retire University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, more than 67 percent of voters had voted yes on Measure 4, rejecting this latest effort by nickname supporters to preserve the moniker.

University of North Dakota Alumni Association and Foundation CEO Tim O’Keefe said Tuesday’s yes vote was bittersweet. “This is an issue that doesn’t come with celebration,” O’Keefe said.

It is, however, a very practical decision. The NCAA decision meant, as opponents of the mascot argued, that the city of Grand Forks wouldn’t be able to host postseason games, which could have cost the city millions in terms of tourism lost.

The irony here is that NCAA’s prohibition against all American Indian nicknames ostensibly exists to avoid offending American Indians. But the policy seemed not to consider the attitudes of actual people who might be offended. What’s the point of avoiding the controversial American Indian name if you’re not going to listen to the American Indians? Isn’t that part of what repression is, ignoring the wishes of the minority group?

Members of the Spirit Lake Nation created the Spirit Lake Committee for Understanding and Respect to try to retain the name. “The Fighting Sioux name does not hurt UND… the NCAA policy does,” the Dakota Sioux Nation argued. “We have 80 years of proof.”

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