UND's Fighting Sioux nickname going away

Ralph Englestad Arena
The Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. is the home to some sports teams from the University of North Dakota. The facility contains many examples of the school's mascot the Fighting Sioux.
Photo courtesy of Ralph Englestad Arena

The Fighting Sioux nickname and logo has been the source of controversy for years.

"Resolution of this issue has been a distracting matter," said North Dakota Board of Higher Education President Richie Smith, at today's meeting. "It distracts from the important work of the university. The nickname and logo have been symbols of pride for many generations, but it's time to go forward."

Smith says the entire state university system is paying the price for the ongoing controversy.

American Indian activists have protested the Fighting Sioux nickname for years but the university refused to change.

In 2005 the NCAA barred UND from hosting post season tournaments or using the nickname if its teams played in tournaments.

North Dakota sued the NCAA, then agreed to get support from Indian tribes, or stop using the nickname.

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Ralph Englestad Arena
The Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. is home to some of the sports teams from the University of North Dakota. The building includes numerous examples of the university's Fighting Sioux logo that has come under fire by NCAA officials.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

This vote of the state's board of higher education sets a deadline of October first to begin the nickname transition.

But UND spokesman Peter Johnson says there's still a chance the nickname will stay.

"Obviously there's no good way to tell what will happen between now and October one," Johnson said, "but I think the thing people need to keep in mind is that only presupposes there isn't some kind of agreement between the two tribes and the university."

The Spirit Lake Nation recently approved use of the logo.

But Peter Johnson says negotiations will continue with the Standing Rock tribe.

Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Ron His Horse is Thunder says the tribal opposition to the nickname will not change.

"There's going to be attempts to force the tribal council to have a referendum, allow a referendum," he said. "But under the current constitution given the time frame they've laid out as October first there is no way a binding resolution can occur by October first."

His Horse is Thunder says the board of higher education vote will have the right result, but he questioned the motive.

Ralph Englestad Arena
Images of the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux logo are inside and out at the Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. The mascot is at the center of a legal fight between North Dakota officials and the NCAA.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

The issue came to a vote because UND wants its teams to play in division one as part of the Summit league. League officials told the school they would not be considered for membership until the nickname issue was resolved.

A UND spokesman says details of the nickname change won't be worked out until after the October first deadline. But any change would be expensive.

It's also unclear how a nickname change would affect the $100 million dollar Engelstad Arena, where UND plays hockey.

When Ralph Engelstad donated the money to build the arena, he ordered thousands of Fighting Sioux logos built into the structure.

There's even a large logo in the granite floor of the concourse. Engelstad said he wanted to ensure the logos could never be removed from the arena.

The arena is operated by a foundation, not the university. A spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

"This is a deep and long time tradition with the University of North Dakota and for many it's going to be a period of transition," said University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley. "I think this has been an emotional issue. It's been an economic issue, it's a political issue. I think all of us will work through this in our own ways. I think the critical piece of this is that UND comes through this together."

While the board's vote sets a deadline for the long standing dispute to end, it's unlikely the controversy will end any time soon.