I have been paying attention to the University of North Dakota (UND) Fighting Sioux ordeal for over 10 years and I am becoming fatigued with every twist and turn those that wish to keep the name are now engaging. I attended the special North Dakota legislative session on Nov. 6, 2011 at the state capitol in Bismarck.
It is becoming painfully obvious that the majority of North Dakotans are unwilling to progress with respect to retiring the Sioux name. It seems a fair assessment, and completely asinine, that a significant portion of North Dakotans would choose to stick by the Fighting Sioux name when the practice of using Indians as nicknames/mascots is clearly out of time and place with the rest of the white-American-male-dominated glory days. Not only have a number of schools made it clear they will not play UND if it retains the name, there are a host of severely damaging consequences that UND will abide by if it wishes to further its athletic and national reputation by remaining a member of the NCAA. Those consequences include giving up the ability to host post-season games. The NCAA sanctions are not the only worries as other schools, including extremely important rivals such as Univ. of Minnesota and Wisconsin, have made it known they do not intend to play UND if it retains the name.
Who still wants the name in the face of the consequences? Not the UND student body; not the athletic director, not the faculty, not the athletes, not the president, not any forward thinking person, all of which have made it clear to the legislators they want a healthy and prosperous change. Apparently the Spirit Lake Sioux want the name; they sued the NCAA recently in an attempt to block the NCAA from enforcing its sanctions on UND. A potential trial on that could come as late as 2013. However, there is hope for those that want to move on. On Tuesday November 8, 2011, 39 North Dakota Senators reluctantly accepted change after several misguided years of trying to cling to the past; a past which objectified and patronized “its” Indians. The North Dakota State Senate voted 39-7 to allow UND to change the name if it chooses, on condition that it wait three years. This permission, if granted by a full Senate vote, House vote, and gubernatorial signature, will be necessary to UND as the State Legislature revoked UND’s authority earlier in the year to prevent the school from making a change.
The ND Senate wants UND to wait three years! That seems a smart condition: let’s watch for three more years as UND’s athletics further nose-dives, and then change [sarcasm]. For UND’s sake and the State’s national reputation I hope a legislator offers an amendment that allows for an expedient transition so as to mitigate damage.
This controversy has tarnished UND’s reputation as a premier academic and athletic institution for well over 40 years. All the North Dakotans accomplish by trying to slither out of the coming change will be to leave our future generations the same ugly, continuing controversy. Everywhere but in the Northern Plains, it seems, people are socially evolving. I must believe North Dakota is better than a stagnant populace that does not recognize that “its Indians” are no longer comfortable with second-class treatment.
In closing, I can say that one thing is clear: everybody is sick and tired of the never-ending nature of the Fighting Sioux controversy. The scant media coverage of the ND’s special session should attest to that. All the people who want healthy change, regardless of race, are not the opponents of anyone. They are not the ones “stuck in the past”; it is quite the opposite.
This is not just about UND athletics. The fate of the Fighting Sioux name now involves North Dakota’s reputation; UND is a State flagship university with medical, law, and aerospace schools, not to mention advanced degree programs in a variety of disciplines. Legislators should get out of UND’s way. The full Senate is set to vote on Tuesday, with a full House vote on deck. Legislators need to allow for an expedient change and watch as UND pursues new challenges and reaches new heights.
Indian Country would do well to prepare for the change of the Fighting Sioux nickname as that will present a most opportune time to capitalize on any momentum a change of this magnitude could have on the overall fight to jettison the practice of using Indians as mascots. The Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, and Washington Redskins are on the waiting list. America is not quickly educated. Thus, we must continue to encourage Indians and non-Indians to educate themselves about this practice, destined to be a goner in my lifetime.
Chase Iron Eyes is an attorney, writer, and North Dakota resident. You will be able to read more at: TheLastRealIndian.blogspot.com