Is the Fighting Sioux nickname battle over?


MPR file photo

A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court decision dismissing a lawsuit by members of the Spirit Lake tribe who wanted to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname at the University of North Dakota.

The tribe sued the NCAA after it pressured UND to drop the nickname. But U.S. district court judge Ralph Erickson in North Dakota ruled that tribal members didn't have standing in the case. On Wednesday, the appeals court agreed.

That could settle the dispute over use of the Fighting Sioux nickname, which goes back decades. American Indian students and activists argued the name was racist and created a hostile environment for American Indians on the UND campus.

The Grand Forks Herald published a timeline of events stretching to the 1930s.

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The NCAA worked for years to push UND to retire the nickname. Deadlines came and went.

A wealthy alumnus, Ralph Engelstad, upped the ante in 1999 when he donated $100 million to build a lavish hockey arena in Grand Forks filled with Fighting Sioux logos.

When then university president Charles Kupchella talked about changing the nickname, Engelstad threatened to withdraw his donation and demolish the partially constructed arena.

Last year, the issue went to a statewide vote and a strong majority of North Dakotans voted to let UND retire the nickname.

Fighting Sioux supporters have talked about another statewide vote, to enshrine the nickname in the North Dakota state constitution.

But there appears to be little public support, and the issue seems to have run it's course in the courts.

Although many of the logos have disappeared from the hockey arena and UND sports teams will have a new nickname in a couple of years, odds are it will take at least a generation for the Fighting Sioux nickname issue and the bitterness surrounding it to fade.