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Published January 10, 2011, 02:40 PM

Proposed Bills Require UND to Keep Fighting Sioux Nickname

Two North Dakota House bills would delay or halt the University of North Dakota from discarding its Fighting Sioux nickname and American Indian head logo, a job the school wants to finish this summer to avoid NCAA penalties.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Two North Dakota House bills would delay or halt the University of North Dakota from discarding its Fighting Sioux nickname and American Indian head logo, a job the school wants to finish this summer to avoid NCAA penalties.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said Monday he would introduce legislation to require UND to keep its nickname and logo. The bill, which was obtained by The Associated Press, orders Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to consider filing an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA if the association tries to sanction UND for keeping the nickname.

A separate bill, sponsored by Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, says the university may not drop the nickname or logo unless the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe holds a referendum and tribal voters deny UND permission to continue using them.

Supporters of the nickname and logo have held out hope that they could be retained if the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes endorsed them.

The Spirit Lake tribe held a referendum in April 2009, with 67 percent of voters declaring they wanted to keep the nickname and logo, which is a profile of a Sioux warrior with feathers and paint. The Standing Rock Sioux's tribal council has declined to hold a referendum, with the tribe's chairman, Charles Murphy, saying it had more pressing issues.

UND plans to eliminate most instances of the nickname by August. Sellers of Fighting Sioux memorabilia have until June 30 to clear out their stocks.

In April 2010, William Goetz, the chancellor of the state university system, ordered UND to begin a transition away from the nickname and logo, and "at this point, the University of North Dakota is continuing to comply" with the directive, UND President Robert Kelley said in a statement Monday.

Goetz's order came shortly after the North Dakota Supreme Court, ruling in a lawsuit filed by a group of Spirit Lake nickname supporters, concluded the state constitution gave the Board of Higher Education authority to drop the nickname and logo.

Stenehjem said the Supreme Court's decision would pose problems for the Carlson and Monson bills.

"The obstacle that they're going to face is the provision of the North Dakota Constitution that says that the Board of Higher Education has full authority over the institutions of higher education in North Dakota," Stenehjem said.

Jon Backes, president of the Board of Higher Education, called the bills "entirely a legislative issue."

"I think until the Legislature gets through their debate on the issue, I really don't have anything more to say about it," Backes said. "If they try to force the state board to do something, I guess we'd have to talk to our lawyer about the constitutionality of that, but to the extent that they think the process is worthy of significant debate . I encourage a robust debate in that regard."

The Fighting Sioux nickname, which for decades has withstood criticism that it demeans American Indians, ran into its strongest challenge in 2005, when the NCAA declared that it and other colleges' American Indian nicknames were hostile and abusive. The NCAA said UND would not be allowed to host postseason tournaments if the Grand Forks school kept the nickname.

The state sued. In October 2007, the two sides settled, with UND agreeing to retire the nickname after three years if the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes did not endorse the nickname and logo.

Carlson said Monday he expected his bill would be popular with lawmakers and North Dakotans generally. He called the Fighting Sioux nickname "a proud tradition" and compared its prospective loss to forcing North Dakota State University to drop its Bison nickname and logo.

"It would be like somebody coming in and telling us that no longer could we have a bison, because those bison were somehow mistreated by the early settlers because they shot too many of them," Carlson said.

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