NCAA upholds ban on Fighting Sioux mascot

Fighting Sioux logo
The University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname has generated controversy for years.
Image courtesy of the University of North Dakota

There seemed to be little room for debate after Walter Harrison, chairman of the NCAA executive committee, announced the ruling on the University of North Dakota. Harrison announced the name should go.

"We believe the use of the Fighting Sioux and the mascots and the imagery that represents are hostile and abusive," said Harrison. "We don't believe the university has made a case to the contrary."

Harrison said the NCAA recently received three letters regarding UND's appeal. One was from a district representative on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The letter cited support by tribal members for the Fighting Sioux nickname. The second was from the university president. Harrison says the third was from Standing Rock Tribal Chair Ron His Horse is Thunder.

We believe the use of the Fighting Sioux and the mascots and the imagery that represents are hostile and abusive. We don't believe the university has made a case to the contrary.

Harrison says the chairman's letter cited a resolution passed by the tribal council in 2005, stating the full tribe's opposition to the nickname. Harrison read from the resolution:

"Which officially and respectfully requests UND to discontinue use of it's nickname and logo and support the NCAA decision to bar the use of Native American tribal names in post season games by colleges and universities."

Harrison says that letter from the tribal chairman, persuaded the NCAA committee to deny UND's appeal. The announcement pleased the Standing Rock tribal chairman. Ron His Horse is Thunder says the ruling does not ban the Fighting Sioux nickname during regular season games, but does force the school to make a tough decision.

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"It's just a matter of whether or not they want to participate in the tournaments afterward and also to host tournaments afterward," His Horse is Thunder said. "That's a decision that they're going to have to make. It does put pressure on them because I'm sure they do want to participate and if they want to participate then obviously they're going to have to abide by the ruling."

University President Charles Kupchella issued a written statement saying, he is disappointed and baffled by the decision. He said the NCAA policy is illegitimate and has been applied to UND inappropriately. Kupchella says the school's next step will be to consider legal and other options.

The decision has financial affects. It's unlikely the university would turn down a bid to play in any NCAA tournament. Tournament appearances help programs recruit players. They keep the alumni happy and bring in donations. UND's hockey program is considered among the elite in the country. However, the team plays in the Englestad Arena, which is adorned with thousands of Fighting Sioux logos that the NCAA says are offensive and abusive.

In order to host NCAA tournaments, or have teams play in them, those logos must be covered or removed. UND officials have not said publicly how they would comply with such an order.

Leigh Jeanotte, director of American Indian services at UND, has worked for more than 20 years to convince the school to change it's nickname and logo. Jeanotte says the decision is a clear signal that logos and nicknames like the Fighting Sioux are becoming a thing of the past.

"In this day and age we don't see teams using Hispanic names, African American names," said Jeanotte. "And my guess is this decision sends a clear statement that American Indians should not be used in this manner."

UND officials have always indicated a legal challenege to the NCAA is their last option. After this NCAA ruling it appears that is the only option they have left.