University of North Dakota “Fighting Sioux” Nickname Retired – At Long Last

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

This morning a rare and delightful thing happened in our mailbox: we got some good news.

After a four year legal battle, the University of North Dakota has been ordered by the North Dakota State Board of Education to retire the “Fighting Sioux” sports team nickname and logo.

This history of this battle to have the nickname removed is long and very complicated. There is a timeline here, but it only reaches up to 2001.

But here are some of the important milestones in this fight, as told to me by Wikipedia:

2000:  21 separate Native American-related programs, departments, and organizations at UND signed this statement stating that while they had originally refrained from challenging the logo because “program administrators and staff did not want to risk deterring any students from accessing their services – including students who may support the University’s continued use of the nickname/logo” they were now challenging the logo in light of the university president’s continued support of it.  They listed the following reasons (among others) for taking issue with the logo:

  • Promotes negative and derogatory stereotypes of Native people, especially Lakota, Nakota and Dakota peoples, therefore dishonoring the very people the University claims to be honoring;
  • Is hurtful and dehumanizing to the state and nations original inhabitants, thereby promoting the oppression of Native people, and placing UND at great risk for practicing and promoting state-supported, institutionalized racism. American Indian students attending UND are increasingly becoming the targets of angry, hurtful, and even frightening incidents related to the ongoing nickname/logo controversy;
  • Adversely impacts prospective American Indian students nationwide from attending UND, and causes Indian related programs personnel to confront tribal concerns regarding the recruitment of American Indian students to an increasingly hostile campus climate. The emotionally charged controversy is rendering the UND campus environment non- conducive to learning, academic and personal success, and the overall well-being of American Indian students. Some tribes have already stated that they will not send American Indian student to UND because of the controversy…
  • Commonly prevents American Indian students, staff, their families and friends from attending or participating in UND athletic events, due in large part to the offensive and negative behaviors of opposing teams fans. Both on campus and off, as long as the “Fighting Sioux” nickname is in use, it has the potential for misuse, and it is sadly ironic that supporters of keeping the nickname/logo(s) believe that it honors American Indian people – when Indian students are not able to comfortably attend or support UND athletic events.

2001: Campaign to change the logo suffers a real blow when UND alumni Ralph Engelstad donates $100 million to UND to build a new arena, with one of the conditions being that the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo be retained.  Arena is built with thousands of Fighting Sioux logos, ensuring that any future change to logo or nickname will be very expensive.

2005: The NCAA decides to sanction schools, including UND, with nicknames or logos that the NCAA finds “hostile and/or offensive…The sanctions would not allow schools like UND to use their names or logos in post-season play and those schools would not be able to host post-season championships.”  UND takes NCAA to court.

2007: Settlement between UND and NCAA is reached where UND can continue to use logo only if they can gain support from the state’s Sioux tribes for the logo.  If they cannot gain support by the end of 3 years, logo will be retired.

2010 (yesterday): ND board of higher education directs UND president to make transition away from Fighting Sioux nickname immediately.


However, as is often the case with these sorts of things, there were broad divisions within the North Dakota native community over the logo, with 67% of Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe members who attended a vote on the nickname in favour of keeping it, while leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux refused to hold a referendum on the nickname, presumably because they were not in support of the nickname.

This Grand Forks Herald article details that battle, though I found it to be an aggravating read, since it spins the logo change as something almost everyone is upset about.

You can watch UND President Robert Kelley’s forum on the nickname change live today at noon North Dakota time.

Having spent the last hour and a half wading through as many articles as I could find on the fight to have the logo changed, I am moved by the amount of work and perseverance required on the part of UND Sioux students and their allies who opposed this logo…and how exhausting, demoralising and neverending this battle must have seemed.

I hope that someone throws a great big party this weekend to celebrate this major victory – and all of its financial, emotional and physical costs.  A big Racialicious congratulations to you, friends.

* I apologise for using such a risky source, but Wikipedia was the only place I could find a coherent timeline. A lot of the organisations involved in the original fight have either disappeared off the internet, or are not posting about the fight on their websites – which I imagine is a sign of the major fatigue caused by this fight.

** Image from this UND site.