Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kerrzy’s Notebook: Fighting for the Fighting Sioux

It’s going to be an interesting year for athletics at the University of North Dakota, as the NCAA prepares to come down hard on the school.

Are they in trouble for recruiting violations? That’s been happening a lot in college sports these days, but that isn’t it. Have players been selling UND stuff on eBay or accepting payments? Nope, that’s not it either. Well, does it have to do with performance enhancing drugs then? Nope!

It’s all in the name.

Until they’re no longer known as the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, the Grand Forks Herald reports the school won’t be allowed to host any playoff games or wear uniforms that display the team name or logo if they do make it to the postseason. ESPN says the NCAA has been trying for years now to rid the college ranks of offensive “American Indian nicknames, logos or mascots” and the UND’s deadline for a name change is mid-August of this year.

Okay, so why not just change the name then? Unfortunately it’s not that easy!

The North Dakota state government recently threw another wrinkle into this story by passing legislation that requires the school to keep the “Fighting Sioux” name. That’s right – the state says they have to keep the name, while the NCAA says they have to ditch it or face penalties. What’s a school to do?

If they had the support of the two local Sioux tribes, Spirit Lake and Standing Rock, the NCAA would back off and this would be a non-issue. The problem there is that the Spirit Lake Sioux supports the school, while the Standing Rock tribe is against the use of the name and logo. The Herald says this divide dates way back to 1969 when a reporter for the paper at the time wrote that a group of Standing Rock band members gave the school permission to use the name during a pipe ceremony.

Here’s where it gets complicated: that article is the only mention in the public record of such a ceremony taking place, and so there are many people who aren’t convinced that it ever happened. Further to that, the son of the author, who is now dead, says his dad never mentioned it. On the flip side, those tribe members who believe the sacred pipe ceremony did happen say that according to tradition, the decision can’t ever be reversed.

Whether or not the 1969 ceremony happened, both the school and the state are now pleading with the NCAA to let them keep the name. Those calls have fallen on deaf ears though, for now at least, with the association pulling out of an April 22nd meeting on the topic.

By all accounts this is a touchy subject, but here’s what it really boils down to – the NCAA wants to get rid of offensive names and logos and I don’t believe this one falls into that category. The fact that local Sioux leaders can’t agree about whether or not the school was given permission to use the name doesn’t prove that it’s an offensive moniker. Shouldn’t the fact that at least one prominent tribe has backed the use of the name prove that it isn’t offensive?

What do you think: Should the NCAA be able to force the University of North Dakota to change its team name/logo, even when the school’s home state makes it illegal for them to do so?

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