Fighting Sioux nickname on hold

Updated: February 5, 2010, 6:27 PM ET
Associated Press

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The fate of the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname has gone into triple overtime.

North Dakota's Board of Higher Education voted 5-3 Thursday to delay a decision on retiring the nickname and Indian head logo so the state can find out if it can speed up an appeal to the state Supreme Court by some Spirit Lake Sioux members who sued to keep the moniker and symbol. The board hopes to have an answer in 30 days on the progress of the appeal.

The board is trying to drop the nickname and logo before a November deadline set as part of a settlement with the NCAA, which considers them hostile to American Indians. A state judge ruled last month that the board had the authority to do what it wants, but the Spirit Lake Sioux group appealed to the state's highest court.

At Thursday's board meeting, university president Robert Kelley and athletic director Brian Faison asked that the issue needs to be resolved quickly. The university in Grand Forks is trying to join the Summit League in time for the 2011-12 season, and the nickname issue has delayed that. The conference president, Tom Douple, has said UND won't be considered for admission until the school finds a solution that makes the NCAA happy.

"The continuation of the controversy will not be helpful to the University of North Dakota," Kelley told the board.

Board member Duaine Espegard, who voted for the delay, said he agreed that the issue needed to be resolved, but said the board's hands were tied.

"As I look at this thing, we are following the lawsuit. We have to make every attempt to get approval from the tribes," he said.

Board members Sue Andrews, Jon Backes, and Grant Shaft also voted to keep the issue alive.

The board's president, Richie Smith, board member Michael Haugen, of Fargo, and student representative Rachelle Hadland voted against the delay.

"I believe we must quit kicking the can down the road to the right here and do what is going to ultimately, inevitably happen, and that is make a decision on this," Haugen said.

The board voted last May to retire the nickname by Oct. 1, 2009, unless it had 30-year agreements from the state's two namesake tribes to keep the nickname. Spirit Lake tribal members have voted to support the nickname, but Standing Rock has not shown interest in changing its bylaws to allow a vote on the issue.

The board twice extended the deadline, first to accommodate Standing Rock's tribal elections, then to wait until Northeast District Judge Michael Sturdevant ruled on the Spirit Lake lawsuit.

Erich Longie, a Spirit Lake tribal member, UND alumnus and nickname opponent, praised the board members who did not vote to delay the matter further.

"They showed courage; they showed ethics," Longie said. "This issue will never go away as long as the name is here."


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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