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That law was repealed in November, when legislators approved Senate Bill 2370, which allowed the school to stop using the moniker.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

    I am an American Indian and I think a great name and logo, I would be proud of that honor if I were a Sioux from that state or anywhere else for that matter.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karl

      I sort of doubt you are native American or you would know that the term 'Sioux' was a derogatory phrase that the enemies of the Dakota tribes used to describe them.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. just4thought

    The Chief and his Appaloosa horse, Renegade, have been fixtures at Seminole home games since 1978, thrilling Doak Campbell Stadium crowds by charging onto the field and planting a flaming spear at midfield before each game.

    Illinois is the French version of an Algonquin Indian word for "warriors”

    Meaning of the name "Iowa" ... comes from the Iowa River, named for the Ioway Indians (a Sioux tribe)

    Indiana means Land of the Indians or Land of Indians

    The name of this state came from the Minnesota River so named by the Dakota Sioux for the river's "cloudy" or "milky water."

    The name Ohio originates from the Iroquois Indian word for good river

    The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"

    The name Nebraska is from an Oto Indian word that means "flat water"

    June 13, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Actual Native From North Dakota

      And because of all that a black guy dressed in buckskin, wearing a head dress, that dances around and whoops like an idiot at washington redskins games is ok.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe Dugan

      And all your fine words are written in English that sprang from Arabic writing and Germanic, Latin-Greek and many other origins to include the Celts, the Frnaks, etc. So it goes.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  3. longtooth

    The Boston Red Sox are safe. You can't be sued by an item of apparel. Seriously, if the Sioux are OK with it, I'm OK. Otherwise, it has to go.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dakota Girl

    I grew up in ND and know many natives who support the nickname, and went to UND themselves. Tribes have even initiated lawsuits to keep it, one was recently dismissed from the court. It seems like the NCAA is trying to tell the tribes they know what is best for them and when to be insulted- as if somehow they couldn't decide that for themselves. Interesting that the Fighting Illini are not having the same sanctions- but then the Illini were pretty much wiped out. I guess it's different if the tribe was annihilated instead of still having a strong presence. The removal of the name and logo (which in fact was designed by a native) are an insult to a great culture.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Actual Native From North Dakota

      If you grew up in ND then you would know there is more than one Lakota/Dakota tribe. Tell me which one gets a large portion of casino traffic from the Grand Forks area and you will know which one supports the nickname.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dakota Girl

      Spirit Lake. Yes, I'm aware. I'm from Bismarck. From the way Standing Rock operates, it has led to a lot complaints from the people there about not having an individual voice. Too few make the decisions for too many.

      June 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Winning

    The only reason I can respect the Washington Redskins is because they offend a few people...

    June 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      Don't forget about the Chiefs and Indians. BTW, the "predators" in hockey, sounds like a bunch of child molesters?

      June 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wondering

      yeah... so why is the NFL team of our nation's capital named such a racially-charged mascot as the "Redskins". Weren't the colonials and settlers responsible for their practical genocide?

      June 13, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jokesterer

    Looks like the Casino Americans finally got their way.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. cog in the wheel

    It always seemed to me that the nickname was intended as an honor, and not meant to be derogatory. Clearly other teams use nicknames based on other groups and cultures, and to my knowledge, when the teams were formed, no insult was meant (the Boston Celtics, the Minnesota Vikings...)

    Still, if the American Indians feel strongly about it, I personally see no problem with teams choosing a new name.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karl

      'Sioux' means 'snake' or 'enemy'. It actually is derogatory. They call themselves 'Dakota'.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    I didn't read all the comments...are they trying to get the Fighting Irish to change their name, too?

    June 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dan

    I'm sorry, this is ridiculous, If anything the colleges are worshiping the greatness of the tribes, I don't see how fellow natives could look at this negatively. It in essence keeps their name alive even if it's not in it's origin... 100 years from now kids will wonder what is a sioux and do some research and find an amazing culture of the past. without that, the name will fade into nothing.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. J.C.

    About time. We need to eliminate any and all references to Native Americans in the public sphere. Out of sight, out of mind, out of the public consciousness.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. btldriver

    How about if they just lose the "Fighting" part? That way they will be like the Univ of Utah Utes or the Florida State Seminoles, not hearing much about them. And when will the NCAA go after the Fighting Irish, which seems to me to be more offensive with its leprechaun mascot than a native American one. How about the Oklahoma Sooners, a mascot paying tribute to cheaters?

    June 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TheTruth

    And the PC wagon rolls on and on.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. chocopoppy

    Wouldn't just dropping "Fighting" be enough. Just go by the "ND Sioux."

    June 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dan

    Perhaps they should change their names to the Fighting Custers? That would definitely boost their will to be slaughtered by the opposing teams.

    LOL

    June 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mike

    Perhaps they could change the nickname, "Fighting Sioux" to "Fighting Irish". Either that or have Notre Dame change its nickname to something that would not offend the Irish people. I am part Indian, as well as part Irish and am not offended by either. While we are at it, let's get rid of the Vikings, Buccaneers, and Canadiens.

    June 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
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