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Published November 14, 2011, 07:21 PM

Fighting Sioux Name Retirement Won't End Lawsuits

(AP) — Lawsuits over the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname are likely to continue, even though the school plans to retire the racially charged moniker, attorneys said Monday.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

(AP) — Lawsuits over the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname are likely to continue, even though the school plans to retire the racially charged moniker, attorneys said Monday.

One lawsuit claims the nickname should be discarded because it creates a hostile environment for UND's American Indian students, while the other says dumping it would violate the religious and civil rights of the state's Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes.

The North Dakota Legislature agreed last week to repeal a law requiring the university to keep the nickname and a logo depicting the profile of an American Indian warrior. The repeal takes effect Dec. 1.

UND has been trying to retire the nickname for years and has been under sanctions from the NCAA since August for failing to do so. The NCAA announced a ban on American Indian nicknames, images and mascots six years ago, saying they were racially offensive.

But lawyers said Monday that the repeal and pending retirement of UND's nickname shouldn't affect their lawsuits, both of which were filed earlier this year in federal court in North Dakota.

The first lawsuit was filed by a group of eight American Indian students at UND, who are seeking unspecified damages from the state and university.

The second, filed by members of the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes, seeks $10 million from the NCAA and a reversal of its policy banning use of American Indian imagery.

Carla Fredericks, an attorney for the UND students, said the nickname and logo created a "racially hostile environment" and "the repeal of that legislation, at least at this point, has not changed that environment."

But North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he has filed a request to dismiss the students' lawsuit.

"There is no controversy or issue any more," Stenehjem said. "The entire lawsuit, really, is without much merit."

The second lawsuit contends the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes were not consulted about a deal between UND and the NCAA. The university had agreed to retire the nickname and logo unless the two tribes allowed their continued use.

Spirit Lake tribal members endorsed the nickname and logo in an April 2009 referendum. The Standing Rock Sioux's tribal council has repeatedly refused to do so, but the lawsuit contends tribal elders conveyed their approval of the nickname in a July 1969 ceremony.

The lawsuit also says the NCAA's order to drop the nickname "failed to take into account traditions, ceremonies and religious acts that are sacred to the Sioux nations." Reed Soderstrom, an attorney for the tribal members, did not respond Monday to telephone and email messages requesting comment.

Grant Shaft, president of the state Board of Higher Education, said UND intends to retire the nickname regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit.

Ill feelings the nickname has engendered have made it more difficult for UND to schedule rival schools in sports, he said. Also, the Big Sky Conference, which UND hopes to join in July, has said keeping the nickname would put the school's membership in jeopardy.

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