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Published January 15, 2010, 10:42 PM

Appeal Filed in ND's Fighting Sioux Nickname Case

By: Dale Wetzel, AP

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Supporters of the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname have asked the state Supreme Court to consider their arguments that the Board of Higher Education should be temporarily barred from getting rid of it.

The attorney for eight Spirit Lake Sioux tribal members, whose lawsuit in the dispute was tossed last month, filed the appeal late Friday. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the appeal doesn't prevent the board from changing the nickname if board members choose to do so.

The board is expected to discuss the issue during a scheduled meeting Thursday in Grand Forks.

The lawsuit, filed by tribal members who support the nickname, sought to delay the board's decision on whether to drop the nickname until Nov. 30, the deadline imposed by the settlement of an earlier suit.

The Supreme Court will set a date later for arguments on the appeal. Stenehjem said he expected the tribal members' attorney, Patrick Morley, of Grand Forks, to ask for expedited scheduling of the case.

Morley did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages from The Associated Press requesting comment.

Stenehjem said he did not believe the Spirit Lake Sioux members would win their appeal. Authority to change the university's athletics nickname is "part of the core responsibility of the Board of Higher Education, and not the courts or anybody else," he said.

The Fighting Sioux nickname and a logo with a Sioux warrior profile have drawn opposition from American Indians and other activists who believe they are demeaning.

However, the nickname also has vocal Indian supporters. The eight Spirit Lake Sioux members, who formed a group called the Committee for Understanding and Respect, successfully pushed for a referendum on their reservation last April that showed 67 percent approval for the nickname.

The issue sparked an earlier legal fight between UND and the NCAA, which considers the nickname and logo hostile and abusive to Native Americans. To settle a lawsuit over the nickname, the university agreed to drop it if the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes had not endorsed the nickname by Nov. 30.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribal council has not taken up the issue nor has it scheduled a referendum. The tribe's chairman has said the nickname dispute is not a pressing tribal priority.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.