N. Dakota campus resigned to ’Sioux country’ end
By DAVE KOLPACK
Associated Press Writer
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The last college to challenge an NCAA edict against American Indian mascots and images began to pick up the pieces from a four-year legal battle that ended quietly with an opinion from the North Dakota Supreme Court.
The ruling supported a Board of Higher Education decision nearly a year ago to retire the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, which has adorned the school's uniforms for about 80 years. The move is expected to open the door for admission into the Summit League, which said it wouldn't consider UND for membership unless the nickname issue was resolved.
Even so, one of the school's longtime coaches said if given the choice, he would choose logo over league.
"This is Sioux country. This whole state is Sioux country," women's basketball coach Gene Roebuck said Friday at a news conference with three other coaches and the school's athletic director.
"It's going to be hard for me to move on and to accept any other type of logo," said Roebuck, wearing a jacket bearing the Indian head logo designed by one of the school's American Indian students.
The NCAA in 2005 and 2006 listed 19 schools with American Indian mascots and images that it considered "hostile and abusive," and banned them from postseason play pending name changes. Nicknames the NCAA deemed offensive ranged from Indians to Braves to the Fighting Illini.
Some universities, like Florida State (the Seminoles) Central Michigan (Chippewas) and Utah (the Utes), were allowed to keep their nicknames by getting permission from local tribes. The University of Illinois was allowed to keep its Fighting Illini nickname, but a mascot dressed in buckskins and headdress, Chief Illiniwek, was banned.
But most of the schools changed their nicknames — leaving UND as the lone holdout.
"We got away from what it was supposed to be about, and it was supposed to be about hearing the wishes of the Native American people in North Dakota," UND hockey coach Dave Hakstol said.
In a settlement with the NCAA ending a North Dakota lawsuit to keep the name, the state Board of Higher Education said it would retire the nickname by Nov. 30 if it didn't obtain permission from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock tribes. Spirit Lake endorsed the nickname; Standing Rock has not.
The board decided not to wait until November after UND athletic officials said it would hurt their efforts to join the Summit League.
Brian Faison, the school's athletic director, admitted he was worried about a drop-off of fan support and donations.
"I certainly expect there will be push back," Faison said.
"Obviously it's a sad day when you are walking away from an 80-year tradition," he said, "but we now have a resolution and that's something that has been real critical for us."
One notable alumnus, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, said he supported dropping the nickname. He said he was concerned over other schools' resistance to playing North Dakota in athletic competition because of the Sioux moniker, so he thinks the right move was made.
"I believe so, even though it's not a consensus among the Native Americans in the state," Jackson said before the Lakers played the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
UND students appeared to be resigned to the change. Sophomore Anthony Johnson, who supports the nickname, said Friday there wasn't much emotion around campus because the move came as no surprise. He believes most people understand both sides of the issue.
"I can see how American Indians can take it as a derogatory term," Johnson said. "But we tried to use it with the utmost respect. We are proud to be the Fighting Sioux."
Across campus, at the office of American Indian Student Services, senior BJ Rainbow said he had mixed feelings about the end of the dispute. Rainbow, who has ties to both of the state's Sioux tribes, said he's happy for the change, but worries about retaliation.
"My hope is that, of course, the backlash will be minimal," Rainbow said. "Realistically, I don't think that is going to happen."
No timetable has been given for choosing a new nickname, but UND teams will remain the Fighting Sioux until the 2011-12 school year.
Robert Kelley, the second-year UND president who stayed on the sidelines while the Higher Education Board debated the issue, held a forum Friday to discuss the nickname. He assured the group of mostly students that the logo would be retired appropriately — and the school would not revert to its previous nickname.
"Yes, unequivocally, we will not return to the Flickertails," Kelley said.