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Published April 19, 2012, 06:35 PM

Tribal Members Want Voice on Nickname Debate

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — An attorney for an American Indian group suing the NCAA in hopes of saving the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname said Thursday that a 2007 settlement should be thrown out so namesake tribes can be heard.

By: Associated Press,

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — An attorney for an American Indian group suing the NCAA in hopes of saving the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname said Thursday that a 2007 settlement should be thrown out so namesake tribes can be heard.

Reed Soderstrom, a Minot lawyer, argued in federal court that the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes were not included in the discussions when the NCAA and the state of North Dakota negotiated the agreement.

"The Sioux people have been repeatedly refused a seat at the table to discuss this issue," Soderstrom said during a hearing on a motion by the NCAA to dismiss the lawsuit.

The settlement called for UND to retire the nickname if it did not get approval from both of the state's Sioux tribes by December 2010. Only Spirit Lake passed a resolution supporting the name. The Standing Rock tribal council, which has passed several resolutions opposing the nickname, has not allowed a vote on the issue.

Jonathan Duncan, an attorney for the NCAA, said the tribes are not members of the NCAA and the complaint has no legal basis. U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson had few questions on Duncan's arguments, but interrupted the Kansas City lawyer when he complained about Soderstrom's accusations that the NCAA ignored the will of the Sioux people.

Erickson asked why approval was required from only one Seminole tribe for Florida State to keep its nickname and from only one Chippewa tribe for Central Michigan to keep its moniker, when there are several bands of both tribes. The judge indicated the requirement for UND to get written approval from two tribes discounts the Spirit Lake tribe.

"Aren't they Sioux enough?" the judge asked.

Duncan did not respond directly to Erickson's query, but repeated his earlier assertion that the NCAA did nothing to violate terms of the settlement. He said the policy does not require colleges to change their nicknames, and one school has agreed to keep its nickname under sanctions by the NCAA.

Soderstrom argued extensively about a 1969 religious ceremony on the UND campus in which Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux elders reportedly granted the school perpetual use of the nickname, but Erickson said he has trouble understanding how that complies with the settlement.

"Let us move forward (with the lawsuit)," Soderstrom said.

Erickson said he would rule in the near future.

John Chaske, a Spirit Lake tribal member who is part of the lawsuit and attended Thursday's hearing, said afterward that he believes his group's arguments are valid, but they might not win the legal battle.

"That always worries me," he said. "We're in a mainstream world here and things might go against us because of how the legal system believes."

Chaske said Erickson was thorough and appears to understand the perspective of the tribal members.

UND is one of the last schools standing in the nickname debate that started in 2005 when the NCAA listed 19 schools with American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots it deemed to be "hostile and abusive." UND sued the NCAA, and that led to the settlement.

A law requiring the school to keep the moniker was repealed eight months after it took effect last year, after the NCAA refused to budge on sanctions. But ardent nickname supporters gained enough signatures to put the issue on the June 12 ballot, and the state Supreme Court last month refused to block that election.

If Fighting Sioux supporters lose, UND intends to drop the moniker.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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