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Published September 27, 2011, 08:59 PM

Spirit Lake Group: Opposition to Sioux Nickname is Harassment

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - Members of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe in Fort Totten, ND, sent a letter to Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton on Monday saying that opposition to UND's use of the "Fighting Sioux" nickname constitutes harassment.

By: Rick Abbott, WDAZ

GRAND FORKS (WDAZ-TV) - Members of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe in Fort Totten, ND, sent a letter to Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton on Monday saying that opposition to UND's use of the "Fighting Sioux" nickname constitutes harassment.

Now, Fullerton says that UND could become a "marginalized Division I school."

The letter was posted on the Plains Daily website on Tuesday.

In the letter, signed by the Committee for Understanding and Respect chairman John Chaske, the nickname supporters say that a 1969 pipe ceremony at UND in which president George Starcher was made an honorary chief was legally binding.

They say the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the ceremony as a binding contract and religious act.

"When we share the Pipe, it is our word; it is binding..." the letter states. "We cannot allow this ceremony to be cast aside by those who seek to remove our name and culture from the face of the earth."

The letter only adds to the precarious situation regarding UND's membership in the Big Sky Conference, as commissioner Fullerton said Tuesday.

“I don’t want to get into the debate itself over what’s happening in the state of North Dakota,” Fullerton told the Grand Forks Herald. “What I’m concerned about is that the University of North Dakota is going to become a marginalized Division I program” if the dispute over the nickname continues.

“Already I’m aware of schools that will not play UND” because of the name dispute, he said.. “Their ability to schedule already is being limited, and the longer this stays an issue the worse it will be.

“I’m not making any value judgment on use of the Sioux name,” he said. “But if they become marginalized, they become of less use to the Big Sky Conference.”

But, Fullerton says this does not necessarily affect UND's membership.

He said the Spirit Lake group’s letter “is not a game changer in any way. We know this group supports the name. But that’s not the problem the NCAA has. With no formal permission (from Standing Rock), they are in violation of this (NCAA) bylaw, and this letter doesn’t change that,” Fullerton told the Herald.

The letter continues: "We strongly feel that the NCAA is erroneous in its attempts to remove the name and label it as "hostile and abusive" when we ourselves, a Sioux Nation, find it to be honorable and a gift that we bestowed upon UND to use for as long as they do so in an honorable way."

UND was about six months into its transition plan when lawmakers passed a bill in April requiring the school to keep the nickname. State leaders now say they want to repeal that law since the NCAA has made clear it won't back down on penalties for symbols it considers offensive.

In April 2009, 67 percent of voting Spirit Lake members authorized UND's continued use of the name. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe never voted on the issue.

It's expected that lawmakers will repeal the law when they meet in special session on November 7, and clear the way for UND to retire the nickname and logo.

Some information from the Associated Press

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