North Dakota voters: University can drop Fighting Sioux name
Evan Trupp of the North Dakota Fighting Sioux tries to keep the puck in a hockey game against the Michigan on April 7, 2011.
June 13th, 2012
11:47 AM ET

North Dakota voters: University can drop Fighting Sioux name

North Dakota voters have - for now, at least - cleared the way for the University of North Dakota’s athletic teams to drop their controversial Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

North Dakotans voted 60.5% to 39.5% on Tuesday in favor of a referendum measure that essentially gives the school the power to drop the name, which it has sought to do to comply with an NCAA campaign targeting Native American nicknames.

“We are appreciative that voters took the time to listen and to understand the issues and the importance of allowing the university to move forward,” university President Robert O. Kelley said Wednesday.

But a years-long battle over the nickname might not be over, with supporters hoping to force another vote - this time calling for changing the state Constitution to mandate the name’s use - in November.

The issue stems from the NCAA's longstanding efforts to get most Native American nicknames and logos out of college athletics. In 2005, the NCAA ordered almost 20 schools whose nicknames and mascots it deemed "abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin" to either get Native American permission to use their names and likenesses or come up with new ones.

The NCAA said that schools continuing to use such nicknames without permission would, among other things, be prohibited from hosting NCAA championship events.

Although one tribal body, Spirit Lake, supported the Fighting Sioux nickname, another group, the Tribal Council of the Standing Rock Sioux, did not give its endorsement. So the North Dakota Board of Higher Education agreed in 2007 to retire the nickname by August 2011.

But some North Dakotans, including the Spirit Lake group, objected, and the state Legislature passed a law in early 2011 requiring the university to use the Fighting Sioux nickname.

That law was repealed in November, when legislators approved Senate Bill 2370, which allowed the school to stop using the moniker.

That prompted the nickname’s supporters to secure petitions forcing Tuesday’s referendum, which asked voters whether Senate Bill 2370 should stand. Tuesday’s “yes” vote keeps the bill in place.

The school stopped referring to its teams as the Fighting Sioux after SB 2370 passed, and the Sioux name and logo were gone from all uniforms except those of the hockey team. But the sports department resumed the nickname's use in news releases in February, when it became clear that the June referendum would happen, said Peter Johnson, executive assistant vice president for university relations.

Johnson said the school will await direction from the State Board of Higher Education, which has a previously scheduled meeting Thursday, regarding when the UND will drop the nickname again. As for a replacement nickname, SB 2730 says UND cannot choose one until January 2015.

But Fighting Sioux supporters have long said they intend to force a vote on constitutionally mandating the name. Supporters have until August to submit enough signatures to put the question on the November ballot.

The UND Alumni Association and Foundation opposes the nickname, saying that the consequences of keeping it extend beyond NCAA sanctions. It says that recruitment is suffering in part because some other schools, including Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota State, won’t compete with UND’s teams over the issue.

The Spirit Lake Committee for Understanding and Respect, which is among the nickname’s supporters, argues that the name and log represent the Sioux people and North Dakota history well.

“We as North Dakotans have many great schools in our state. Each has its own pride and traditions. UND is no exception. The Fighting Sioux is to UND as Coke is to Coca Cola. The name has become the branding of UND,” the group says on its website.

- CNN's Jason Hanna, Kevin Conlon and Phil Gast contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Native Americans • North Dakota • Sports
soundoff (248 Responses)
  1. t16rich

    People are looking way to hard for what is racist these days.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heidiliz

      Actually this has been an issue for many Native tribes for decades.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Knucklehead

    Being of Scandinavian descent, I want all references to 'Vikings' pulled, in all organizations, collegiate, professional, little league. Now. I'm hurt by it. Insulted. Besmirched. Resentful. You name it.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • dakattack

      your screen name pretty much says it all

      June 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      Well, that can't possibly be offensive because you aren't a minority. See, that's how it works...

      June 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. William

    "In 2005, the NCAA ordered almost 20 schools whose nicknames and mascots it deemed "abusive in terms of race, ethnicity or national origin" to either get Native American permission to use their names and likenesses or come up with new ones."

    Interesting. So what group do you call to get permission to use the name "Fighting Irish"?

    June 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. reason

    The term "Fighting Sioux" is an honor, not a disparagement.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • dakattack

      sioux actually translates to "snake". If they wanna be Fighting snakes,let em

      June 13, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Knucklehead

    However, I do hereby give my permission for use of the mascot, "The Fighting Knuckleheads."

    June 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. blah9999

    I always thought of Native American nicknames for teams as honoring Native americans, Not offending them.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Inglourious

      Calling a team the "Redskins" is an honor?

      June 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Knucklehead

    How 'bout "The Fighting CEOs?"

    June 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bossmanjr

    Only Obama would allow the team name to be changed. Romney would never let the team name change. This is a typical liberal media article, liberal propaganda. Obama is a socialist pig. It's time for a change America, and this article only solidifies that. **Romney 2012**

    June 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • kmac

      Why would you write that–you make Mitt support look stupid

      June 13, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • ND Native

      I assume you're a troll?

      This issue has been playing itself out for decades. Obama had nothing to do with it.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • COGowan

      This is Obama's fault? Seriously? Do you have any idea how cosmically stupid that is?

      June 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Inglourious

      "Only Obama would allow the team name to be changed. Romney would never let the team name change." This was voted on at the state level in North Dakota. How is Obama allowing them to change the name? How would Romney prevent it?

      North Dakota is a solidly red state - it has not voted for the Democratic presidential candidate since Johnson in 1964.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Winner

      Explain to me what Obama has to do with this. Last time I checked North Dakota voters agreed that the school can drop the name. Last time I checked, North Dakota is conservative state.

      How about you think before you speak.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Owl96

      Actually the President has no say. The change was required by the NCAA, which The University of North Dakota belongs to and continues to belong to. The NCAA officers are chosen by the college presidents. You chose to join, you choose to continue your membership and your president has some say...then you follow the rules. I think it is a worthless rule, but they should follow it anyway.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • No

      Comment reported for sheer stupidity.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Heidiliz

    It surprises me that people scoff at Native people not wanting to be used as mascots. They have a hard enough time being humanized by non-natives.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. tl

    pretty soon we will even forget that they were even here.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ironwolf56

    Fighting Sioux is racist but Fight Irish is A Ok? Double standard much?

    June 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Amen.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mr. DJ

    If Obama had a team name it would be the "unamericans"

    June 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • kmac

      And you prove Mitt has no connect to common people.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pander Bear

      Consider medication.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Elizabeth

    It is clear that the authors/contributors don't even understand the issue by referring the to "the Sioux people" in the second to last paragraph. They are Lakota (or Sakota or Dakota), not Sioux. Sioux is a nickname given to the Lakota people by the Crow, their enemies. BUT (and that's a big but), it does not hold the same negative impact for most people that it once did. Sioux is held with respect and honor by most people in the area these days. Of course the NCAA board that made that sweeping decision does not know or understand that. The NCAA is far too powerful and uninformed to be making such big decision.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Elizabeth

    The University of North Dakota DOES NOT have a mascot. It never has. It uses a logo designed by an American Indian from the region.

    June 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JB!

    If they have to drop the name cause a few white people have to apologize for being white and can't see that it's a compliment then Notre Dame has to drop the Fighting Irish

    June 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
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