Officially, the University of North Dakota and its athletic department have entered a transitional phase. It’s a transition away from use of the Fighting Sioux mascot and team name and to a new identity, which has yet to be determined. The NCAA opposes use of Native American names for athletic teams, but in 2007 UND cut a deal: Get permission from the two Sioux tribes, and the mascot could persist. In 2009, the Spirit Lake Reservation voted to permit continued use of the name, but the Sioux of Standing Rock never held a vote.
Thus was the matter decided: Without explicit permission from Standing Rock, UND would have to seek a new mascot. Yet as reported at the Fargo news site InForum.com, defenders of the mascot are still trying to hold onto it; Republican leadership in the state House of Representatives has drafted two bills that would overrule the NCAA’s verdict. One, proposed by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, seeks to give state sanction to the name and prevent any future efforts to change it; the other bill, proposed by Rep. David Monson, proposes keeping the mascot unless both tribes vote against it.
Supporters complain that the process was not satisfying, particularly with no official word from Standing Rock. “If I thought for one minute that it was derogatory, the Fighting Sioux nickname, then I would have never put the bill in,” said Carlson in a video interview posted to YouTube by the Grand Forks Herald. “And it’s not just me, there’s been all kinds of North Dakota citizens who’ve called up and said ‘Hey, we want the Sioux nickname kept.’ So what we’re going to give it is its day in court.”
Opponents point out that the North Dakota State Constitution establishes a board of education whose decisions cannot be altered by the legislature. “We don’t doubt the bill would be popular with North Dakotans,” reads an editorial at MinotDailyNews.com, but “the Legislature doesn’t have a say in the matter, unless lawmakers want to amend the Constitution. We’re not sure a university nickname squabble rises to the level of requiring a change to the Constitution.”
Tom Dennis of the Grand Forks Herald raised numerous arguments against prolonging the Fighting Sioux fight, and drew attention to a peculiar quote by Carlson: “We’re happy to challenge that because all our (the Legislature’s) bills are constitutional until proven otherwise.” “Hmm,” wrote Dennis, “that’s not quite the sacred-text approach Carlson’s fellow Republicans affirmed in their run-up to reading the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the U.S. House. Or is Carlson now saying that constitutions are ‘living’ documents whose words take on new meanings over time?”