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That law was repealed in November, when legislators approved Senate Bill 2370, which allowed the school to stop using the moniker.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

    It is just funny that teams at the college level are being forced to change names that are not at all offensive to the majority of Native Americans. While DC has the Washington Redskins, with the most offensive name. No one seems to be forcing their organization to change.

    June 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. A. A. roberts

    I'm glad they're addressing the really important issues.

    June 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    Hay! This reminds me of when we were forced to stop fighting The California ENRONERS when newly elected gov. The Schartzzenator dropped CA's long standing 100 billion dollar lawsuits bent on reclaiming stolen funds before they left the country to built the ENRON powerplant now operating in India, for example one.

    June 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Disanitnodicos

    They should change their name to the Whining Babies.

    June 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dunlar

    How about the argumentative Sioux?

    June 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kevin

    So I guess Notre Dame should drop the Fighting Irish, and Boston should drop the Celtics, right? If the native american tribes do not have a problem with it, then why should we? Were the Native American Tribes of North Dakota complaining?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Greg

    I understand Fighting Illini is available

    June 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Paul

    Is Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish" on the NCAA's list? I really would like to know. Anyone have the answer?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Greg

    Fighting Illini is available...

    June 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. marctheduck

    What about state names based on Native American names? And is it ok to allow those ONLY if the tribe is now extinct? If so, why would that be a politically correct distinction. Shouldn't North Dakota change the Dakota part of their name (I prefer Baja Manitoba)? And South Dakota? Illinois? Let's bring Canada in (they feel left out)... Manitoba? Saskatchewan? Wait, what about New Mexico? Anyone ask Mexico if that was ok? Or New Orleans? The French always want to disagree so I'm sure they don't like that one. Yes, yes, as previously mentioned Notre Dame are the Fighting Irish. Do they all really want to fight? Maybe some of them don't believe in that. This whole hemisphere is just out of whack with modern sensibilities.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CommonSensed

    They should change their name to the Fighting Moronai!

    June 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. whattabout

    Whatabout the Texas Nigtoners?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. rad666

    What is so bad exactly about being called the "Fighting Sioux"? I can't believe people are offended by this stuff.......Really
    I don't here anybody complaining about the fighting Irish.

    June 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. whattabout

    Whattabout the hundreds of millions of dollars Indian Nations have taken-in with their exclusive rights to casinos and tobacco sales?

    June 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Michael Brown

    I demand Notre Dame get rid of the Fighting Irish! I demand Oklahoma State and Wyoming get rid of the Cowboys! I demand Southern Cal and Troy get rid of the Trojans! I demand San Diego State get rid of the Aztecs! SMH

    June 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
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