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Published February 08, 2012, 02:10 AM

Fighting Sioux Nickname Lives Again as Supporters Turn in 17K Petitions

(AP) — As a member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Indian tribe, Eunice Davidson has little patience with arguments that the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname is demeaning to her.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

(AP) — As a member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Indian tribe, Eunice Davidson has little patience with arguments that the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname is demeaning to her.

In recent weeks, Davidson has spent hours outside the university's Ralph Engelstad Arena — built and named for one of the nickname's staunchest backers — to gather petition signatures aimed at restoring a nickname the university wants to discard.

On Tuesday night, she was one of a group of nickname supporters who delivered petitions bearing what they said were 17,213 signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office.

The total was almost 4,000 names more than the minimum of 13,452 needed to force a June 12 statewide vote on whether the university should keep the nickname and an American Indian head logo, which itself was designed by a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

"We worked in the cold weather. We froze. But even though we went through all that, it was really an experience, learning how to do this," Davidson said.

Jaeger planned to count the signatures Wednesday, before starting a 35-day vetting process to determine whether the petition is sufficient to qualify for the ballot.

The pro-nickname law itself will be back in force until the vote, unless Jaeger determines the petitions are inadequate.

The NCAA considers the nickname and logo hostile to American Indians. If their use is continued, the association has said, UND will not host postseason tournaments, nor will the school's teams be allowed to wear uniforms in postseason play that have the Fighting Sioux nickname or the Indian head logo.

Last November, after the North Dakota Legislature repealed a law that required UND to use the nickname and logo, they were scrubbed from university websites and removed from some school team uniforms.

The petitions submitted Tuesday demand a vote on whether the Legislature's decision to repeal the law should itself be reversed. The law was approved in March in hopes it would make the NCAA reconsider its opposition to the nickname and logo, but the association remained adamant.

Davidson's tribe has supported keeping the nickname and logo. Almost three years ago, 67 percent of the tribal members who voted in Spirit Lake reservation referendum endorsed their continued use.

The Standing Rock reservation has not had a referendum. Its tribal council has long opposed the name, and the tribe's chairman, Charles Murphy, said the matter was not a priority.

Nickname supporter Archie Fool Bear, a former Standing Rock tribal councilman who helped to deliver the petitions Tuesday, said a statewide referendum would give tribal members a voice on the issue.

"This is going to allow for the people to have their chance, their fair say," Fool Bear said. "They can't restrict everybody forever."

Faced Tuesday with the petition's likely success, university officials and members of the state Board of Higher Education said they had no plans to immediately restore the nickname.

The measure does not include any penalty if UND or the board ignores its directive. The legislation's primary sponsor, Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the Republican majority leader in the North Dakota House, said he did not support one.

"I love the Fighting Sioux but I don't see that as an issue worth fighting over," Carlson said. "I don't see that we should be running penalties up."

Duaine Espegard, the board's vice president, said Tuesday that board members needed to consult first with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem about the implications of the petition filing.

"There really isn't a plan right now, and we'll have to wait a day or so," Espegard said.

Stenehjem declined comment Tuesday. The board's president, Grant Shaft, did not respond immediately to telephone and email requests for comment.

Peter Johnson, a UND spokesman, said the university has already taken a number of steps to retire the logo and nickname. The logo and Fighting Sioux references have been removed from university websites, and Internet addresses have been changed to delete mention of them.

The Fighting Sioux Sports Network, the Fighting Sioux Club and Sioux Crew have had their names changed to the UND Sports Network, the North Dakota Champions Club and Nodak Nation.

In place of the American Indian warrior profile, a new logo, with an interlocking ND, is featured. The ND logo is on the front of new jerseys for the women's hockey team, Johnson said.

The school's women's basketball team uniforms had a small American Indian head logo, which "has been removed as part of the transition," Johnson said. UND's men's basketball uniforms have had neither the logo nor the nickname.

The UND men's hockey team will continue to wear jerseys with the logo and the word "SIOUX" emblazoned across the chest, Johnson said. New jerseys aren't scheduled for delivery until the end of the month, he said.

Backers of the nickname referendum are also circulating a separate petition that would amend the North Dakota Constitution to require UND to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname. That petition does not need to be turned in until August to qualify for the November general election ballot.

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