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Fighting the Fighting Sioux

In Fighting Sioux vs. Fighting Irish, I thoroughly discussed the problems with the "Fighting Irish" name. Now let's consider the problems with the "Fighting Sioux" name. Note that most of these problems are unique to the "Fighting Sioux" name.

An excerpt from Chris Lerch's column at US College Hockey Online, comparing UND's Sioux to FSU's Seminoles:

Sept. 4, 2005

The Scrap Heap Of History
NCAA Wrong To Back Down On Mascot Ban

by Chris Lerch/Senior Writer

When it comes to financial support, North Dakota has its own troubled past with Native American symbols. Again, some history. The Sioux Nation (Lakota, Dakota and Nakota tribes) suffered the same persecution as the Seminole, cumulating the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. The name "Sioux" was actually a French-Canadian name ("snake") which was then used by other Native American tribes as a term for the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota.

Many historians assert that "Sioux" was considered an insult when used by these other tribes. The U.S. government later adopted the term as the official name for the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota. It's ironic that these Native Americans did not choose this name for themselves and never referred to themselves as "Sioux" until after the US began to call them that.

North Dakota's sports teams were known as the Flickertails until 1930, when, in response to a heated rivalry with North Dakota State ("the Bison"), the name was changed to "Fighting Sioux." Documents in the UND archives show that honoring Native Americans had nothing to do with the change. The reasons given at the time:

1) Sioux are a good exterminating agent for the Bison.
2) They (Sioux) are warlike, of fine physique and bearing.
3) The word Sioux is easily rhymed for yells and songs.

— Dakota Student (UND student newspaper), 1930

There were no Native American students enrolled at UND in 1930, so claims that this had anything to do with honoring them are false.

Since 1930, there have been numerous calls to change the school's mascot. While it is true that North Dakota has a larger percentage of Native American students than any other college in the region, virtually all Native American organizations on campus at UND oppose the current "Fighting Sioux" nickname. In 2000, 21 Native American-related organizations at North Dakota signed a letter opposing use of the nickname and logo, saying that it did not honor their culture.

This prompted UND President Charles E. Kupchella to form a commission to examine the elimination of the "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo. Comments made by Kupchella during this time indicated that he was leaning towards changing the name. That all changed in a hurry when Ralph Engelstad, who had committed over $100 million to the construction of a new hockey arena, wrote the infamous "Dear Chuck" letter to Kupchella, threatening to pull funding for the area (which was already under construction) if the logo or nickname were changed.

Engelstad, the late crackpot billionaire casino owner, had been sanctioned and fined by the Nevada Gaming Commission for promoting a huge collection of Nazi memorabilia and for holding birthday parties for Hitler, complete with a painting of Engelstad in a Nazi uniform, and t-shirts with Hitler's picture and the caption "Adolf Hitler — European Tour 1939-45".

But $100 million is $100 million, so the "Fighting Sioux" keep on fighting, despite the protest of literally dozens of Native American and human rights groups around the world.

It all comes down to respect. These schools claim that they are honoring Native Americans by using them in this way. Ridiculous. The Sioux never asked for this honor. A place of "higher education" should understand that honor is in the eye of the beholder. It is up to Native Americans to decide how and if they are honored, not the other way around. And many, many are not, but rather insulted and offended to be trivialized and dehumanized in this manner. Enough, certainly, to end the practice.

These places of higher education need to teach that it's offensive to persecute a race of people, and then use their symbols to prance around at sporting events or adorn their team's jerseys. To draw an analogy, it would be like a German soccer team "honoring" local survivors of the Holocaust and their ancestors by naming their team "The Fighting Jews."

We will eventually see the day when most people realize how foolish and insulting these practices are. UND and other institutions can keep putting their fingers in the dike of social justice, but it's a foolhardy and ultimately futile effort. They should know better, and the NCAA should, too.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

James McKenzie: UND's hurtful use of nickname complex, unwise

James McKenzie
September 1, 2005 MCKENZIE0901

I'm glad to see that the Star Tribune recognizes in its recent editorial that North Dakota's use of Indian nickname and iconography is "more complex" than some other cases. It is indeed, as I know from 34 years on the faculty there, during which time I never had a year when there were not Indian students in my office explaining how it eroded their educational experience at the university, damaged their children, made, in some cases, their very lives unsafe in Grand Forks.

The controversy undermines the educational life of the institution as well, as the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) acknowledged after its accreditation review two years ago. Instead of addressing it in its "diversity" section, it moved its concerns to the "academic" portion of the report, saying "continued use of the Indianhead logo and the 'Fighting Sioux' nickname reduces the university's ability to accomplish its purpose and diminishes its educational mission."

Near the end of its extensive discussion of the issue, it says "UND is too good an institution, and its leadership too important to the state of North Dakota, to let this issue continue to weaken its performance and impede its full development."

Even in its acknowledging of that complexity your editorial glides over other complexities. It uses, for instance, the university's oft-cited justification of its "Fighting Sioux" logo: that it was designed by "a noted Native American artist." What is not noted is that that artist is Chippewa. Not that such a logo would be any better if it had been made by a "Sioux," whatever one might mean by that term, with its complex history. But the official blurring of such distinctions seems indistinguishable from stereotyping.

The editorial also mentions a "disagreement" of the state's two tribes about the issue, but no tribe that has traditionally been called Sioux has endorsed the name, and all but one of the many such groups (I include here South Dakota) have long officially opposed that name, as have all of North Dakota's other tribal governments.

There are other complexities. The president of the university and other apologists for the nickname love to point out the many Native American programs there are on campus, never mentioning that the overwhelming majority of those programs has long been on record asking that the name be dropped pretty much for the same reasons NCA cites in its accreditation review.

In the editorial "UND's integrity / At what price an arena?" (Oct. 6, 2001) the Star Tribune concluded that the hockey arena's "in-your-face use of the logo should embarrass a university that, it seems, would rather have a new hockey arena than an ounce of integrity." A trip to Grand Forks four years later would reveal a second arena, "the Betty," and "in-your-face" use of the logo by a variety of merchants to sell every conceivable item including shot glasses and other alcohol containers, sweat pants with the word across the butt, hotdogs called "Siouxper dogs,"and so forth.

Demeaning puns abound, as do a host of other uncontrollable usages by opponents and fans alike, some of which are not printable in this newspaper. Every one of these items is a use of the name that Native students, and others, worked against almost four decades ago.

No university president can stop those abuses by fans and opponents, especially under the arrangements of the sellout your editorial so rightly described. At the very least, the NCAA can insist that, while such behavior may be understandable in those who sold their integrity in that way, the students and athletes of other institutions need not sanction it through such high-profile events as postseason tournaments.

James McKenzie, the recently retired chair of the English Department at the University of North Dakota, lives in St. Paul.

Students experience hostility firsthand
From the Grand Forks Herald:

Posted on Wed, Apr. 12, 2006

VIEWPOINT: Racism at protest shames UND

By Denise K. Lajimodiere

GRAND FORKS — "Don't you have more important things to worry about?" This statement often is posed by non-Native students at UND to Native students taking part in Fighting Sioux logo discussions.

As a Native educator of 30 years, I can say I have nothing more important to worry about.

I have committed my life to dealing with harmful and negative stereotypes and educating students on my reservation of their culture, traditions, ceremonies and spirituality. As Native people, we experience layer upon layer of stereotypes and images that dehumanize. Eurocentric curriculum and children's literature reinforce stereotypes of the "vanishing Indian," "romantic Indian," "militant Indian" or "drunken Indian." I have seen firsthand how these images, along with poverty or low socioeconomic status, generational trauma and other issues of reservation life contribute to low self-esteem in Native students.

Despite these issues and because we have Native teachers, social workers, counselors, administrators and tribal leaders taking care of important things, we have many successful students enrolling at UND. The trouble is, Native students continue to be bombarded by negative stereotypical images perpetrated by the Fighting Sioux logo once they arrive on campus.

Currently, I am a doctoral student in educational leadership at UND, a mother and grandmother and have been involved in the anti-logo movement since the 1970s. Still, it was with trepidation that I walked to the anti-logo vigil on the corner of Sixth Avenue North and Columbia Road on March 25.

Standing silently with a small group of students, the first comment I heard yelled from a passing vehicle was, "Go back to where you came from!" This comment was followed by yells of "F• you! Go back to your tipi! Drink firewater! If the logo goes so do your programs! You should be proud! I have an Indian friend and he likes the logo!"

We were flipped the middle finger more than 30 times, with one vehicle turning on its overhead dome light so we could see all the occupants gesturing. Imprinted on my brain is the angry, twisted face of a young blonde woman yelling at us.

In light of such behavior, I'm proud of the quiet dignity that the students and adults maintained during the two hours standing on the corner.

"Go back where you came from!" This chant often was aimed at my family's home in Portland, Ore., during the 14 years we were "relocated" off the reservation. Groups of students from local schools would gather to throw dirt clods and pine cones at our front door. These were kids I went to school with.

In school, being called "squaw" and "stinking Injun" was a daily ordeal. My braids often were used to jerk me around the playground.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage, strength and resiliency for a Native student wanting to leave the reservation to continue his or her education. And many, like me, have our first experiences of racism off the reservation.

I am horrified and distressed by the overt racism we saw that Saturday night. The continuation of negative stereotypes portrayed in comments hurled at us is witness to the ongoing ignorance of Native culture, no matter how many years we have worked to gain awareness and understanding.

My heart aches for all Native students attending this university now and in the future.

The Fighting Sioux logo stands out among colleges nationwide as a mark of institutionalized racism. As an educator and former administrator, it is hard for me to understand how UND can ignore NCAA recommendations to retire the logo. But in light of the ongoing and relentless stereotypes that the logo perpetrates, I stand firm in urging this university to retire the Fighting Sioux name.

As I move into a professorship at North Dakota State University, it is with relief that I will not be confronted by logo issues on a daily basis. I'm tired of having my braids jerked.

Lajimodiere holds a bachelor's degree from UND and is a doctoral student there.

From A Name to Fight Against by Waste'Win Yellow Lodge Young. In the Harvard Crimson, 10/17/05:

I was a young woman when I went to UND in 1997. I tried my best to fit in to the whole college scene, living in the dorm, going to dances, and attending a football game for the first time.

At the game, I witnessed several of my white peers painted exorbitantly, with fake feathers adorning their bodies. Our fans were chanting and doing the tomahawk chop, while our opponent's fans were chanting slogans like, "Pillage the village, rape the women!"

It is inevitable that, with a team name like the "Fighting Sioux," opponents and spectators will say or do something that may hurt an actual Dakota/Lakota person who is watching—and in the passion of the moment, it can be difficult to differentiate between literal language and fun in the name of sports. But these displays made a mockery of our traditions. In our culture, eagle feathers are sacred, and they are earned when an individual accomplishes a great and honorable deed. As with eagle feathers, our paint is worn by veterans and also in tribal ceremonies. When I saw what was happening at the game, I was filled with so much anger and hurt that I couldn't hide it from my two nephews who were with me. Our own fans were disrespectful, and no race of human beings should have to put up with chants like those of our opponents.

I never again attended an athletic event at UND in my entire five years there. I would have loved to cheer on my school and attend the many celebrations the school offered. Throughout those five years at UND, I was glad I did not attend another game because the vulgar, despicable t-shirts, signs, and cheers made by both our team and our opponents would have undoubtedly infuriated me more.

At UND I participated in demonstrations and educational forums regarding the issue of our team name. The community, the politicians, and the students all said that they were willing to listen to the "other side." But it is all lip service. The university and its "old boy" network have never seriously listened to native students. They never listened when my car windows were broken after a march regarding the team name issue. They never listened when two white male peers harassed me for wearing a "Change the Name" button on my backpack. They never listened when a car full of white girls chased my sister down the street and told her to go back to the reservation. Honor us? Surely, they jest.

From For Dignity's Sake, Stop Using Indians as Sports Mascots by Tim Giago. In the Houston Chronicle, 9/17/05:

Now I ask those who think it is "traditional, cute or their God-given right" to use human beings as mascots consider the following: The Indian nations of North Dakota included in its their resolution that the use of the "Sioux" nickname "promotes an atmosphere of hostility on the campus of UND that has resulted in numerous ugly incidents including beatings, vandalism, death threats and other incidents directed toward the American Indian students on campus and others who advocate for changing the name." Before a football game last year students from the opposing team held up posters that read, "The Sioux Suck."

While covering a protest of Native Americans prior to a football game at the University of Illinois, a college infamous in Indian country for its Chief Illiniwek mascot, I observed and photographed angry white Illini students and alumni spitting at and flicking lighted cigarettes at the Indian protesters. My question then and now is, how can educated people honor and praise an imitation of an Indian, a white boy dressed in costume, and be so vile to the real American Indians protesting their use as mascots for a sports event?

From Fight on, Sioux ... Nations! by James Falcon. In American Chronicle, 10/3/05:

Many ask how "Fighting Sioux" could be considered offensive. First, take the nickname and divide it; thus you will have "fighting" and "Sioux". The word 'fighting' can be considered synonymous with violence, and 'Sioux' can be generalized to 'Indians'; thus, the nickname is basically "those Violent Indians".

As a cousin of mine, a student at UND, told me a while back: "UND appears to be losing its fight with the NCAA and the Natives in this town (Grand Forks) are feeling the backlash." Indeed. He also relayed a story of how his sister-in-law's friend, a UND student and Cheyenne River Sioux, was harassed while walking back to his dorm. "Prairie N*****! Prairie N***** can't play basketball, they should go back to the rez' where they belong."

Wow. And this all happened at a college where the Native American is honored?

UND fights for its mascot
From the Grand Forks Herald:

Posted on Sun, Feb. 12, 2006

VIEWPOINT : UND ignores groups, rulings, studies that oppose nickname

GRAND FORKS — UND's administration has consumed much time and energy refuting the "hostile and abusive" label applied to its sports nickname and logo. But it is unwilling to address the specific concerns long raised by tribal governments and organizations, civil rights groups and more specifically, American Indian educators and educational organizations.

In fact, UND President Charles Kupchella says, in his appeal to the NCAA, "We reject the NCAA argument that Indian nicknames and logos stereotype American Indians." Does this mean he also "rejects" the findings of the American Psychological Association? The National Congress of American Indians? The National Indian Education Association?

To date, no less than 12 independent empirical studies (five from UND alone) have demonstrated that American Indian athletic team nicknames and logos have an adverse impact on Indian students. These data also suggest Indians in these settings do oppose their use and do not feel "honored."

Proponents of Indian nicknames and logos can produce no studies that have demonstrated the opposite outcome and refer instead to unscientific, self-serving "polls" in Sports Illustrated for support.

To this end, the American Psychological Association has passed a resolution calling for the retirement of all American Indian mascots and logos. It's one thing to ignore the aforementioned studies or seek to attack their methodologies (something anyone could do with any study ever conducted). But how can UND simply ignore the collective wisdom of the largest professional psychological association in the world?

If, as Kupchella said in his Feb. 10 viewpoint, UND's administration is proud of its "long-standing, fine array of programs in support of American Indian students and programs in health care and other areas," why will they not listen when these very same programs (including programs whose emphasis is the physical and mental well-being of Indians) repeatedly tell them that the name is detrimental to their mission?.

If building solidarity is so important, where was the administration in 2000 when the State Board of Higher Education intervened in a legitimate campus process, ignored tribal government resolutions and mandated that keeping an Indian sports team name and logo was "in the best interest of the state"? Why wasn't an effort made then to achieve "solidarity" with the tribal governments?

Perhaps establishing solidarity on our own campus should be the first goal. UND's administration insists that the nickname and logo are not interfering with our academic mission. But the UND Senate disagrees and recently passed a resolution requesting that the president "develop and implement an orderly plan for discontinuing use of the Indian nickname and Indianhead logo."

UND's American Indian Student Services Office and the vast majority of programs that specifically serve Indian students also disagree with UND's president and his advisors on this issue.

Establishing "more solidarity" between UND and the Sioux tribes is a worthy goal — one that UND's American Indian Student Services Office and the Indian programs on this campus have been doing since the1970s. And they've been doing this work not so that UND can keep a sports team name and mascot, not because they're opportunistically trying to get anything in return from area tribes, but to give Indian students (of all tribes) the support and encouragement needed to achieve their goals.

In its second appeal to the NCAA, UND states, "The athletic program of the University of North Dakota is one of the finest in America; it serves as a source of pride for many" as though this is a reason for ignoring more than 30 years of conflict and controversy. As though this is reason enough to ignore the National Congress of American Indians, the U.S. Office of Civil Rights and its own accrediting body, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

It is time for UND's leaders to stop their lobbying efforts to keep a name that has become a symbol of racial dissension, to put aside threats of lawsuits, to halt the pitting of students against each other, to stop — please — trying to justify the appropriation of Indian culture for marketing purposes.

Building solidarity involves listening and showing respect for tribal governments and organizations. Solidarity is built on trust. UND should reach out to the tribal governments and support Indian programs and students because it is the right thing to do — not because we want to keep a sports team name and logo.

McDonald, an Oglala Sioux Tribe member, is director of UND's Indians Into Psychology doctoral program. Tepper, a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, is a professor of teaching and learning at UND, and Ganje is an associate professor of art at UND.

Indians protest, Irish don't
The Irish could protest the "Fighting Irish" name, but they haven't. They haven't expressed moral outrage at being stereotyped as brawlers.

The reason for this is probably simple: They've gone mainstream and are no longer persecuted. As Tim Wise put it, "To be Irish American is to be a member of the largest white ethnic group in the nation, and one of the most accepted and celebrated at that."

Meanwhile, the Lakota (Sioux) have protested the "Fighting Sioux" name. From UND President Wavers on Tribal Support for 'Sioux' on Indianz.com, 8/26/05:

In 1999, seven tribes, including the Spirit Lake Nation, called for the removal of "Fighting Sioux," according to BRIDGES, a student organization at UND.

From the Casper Star-Tribune, 9/3/05:

Tribal members reject 'Fighting Sioux' nickname

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. (AP) — Members of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe, the closest tribe to the University of North Dakota campus, have declared the school's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo "an affront to the dignity and well-being" of the tribe.

More than 70 people packed a tribal administrative building about 90 miles west of Grand Forks to discuss the nickname Tuesday night, and approved a resolution calling on the school to drop them both the nickname and the Indian-head logo.

"(The tribe) finds that the use of the 'Fighting Sioux' and 'Sioux' names by the University of North Dakota is both dishonorable and an affront to the dignity and well-being of the members of Spirit Lake," the resolution read.

The matter is expected to go next to the Spirit Lake's tribal council for formal adoption, likely on Friday.

UND officials have said the school had support from the Spirit Lake tribe to use the nickname. But former Tribal Chairman Skip Longie said that authorization, granted to the university in 2000, came with a string of conditions, including required sensitivity courses for all incoming freshman at UND and visits to all North Dakota's Indian reservations.

"To my understanding, I don't think the university has done any of those things," Longie said.

Tuesday's strong showing of tribal opposition came on the same day that UND formally appealed an NCAA decision placing the school on a list of schools barred from hosting tournaments or wearing Indian-related imagery in the postseason after Feb. 1.

From KXMC.com, 9/10/05:

Tribes ask UND to Ditch "Fighting Sioux"

Representatives of North Dakota's Indian tribes are asking the University of North Dakota to drop its "Fighting Sioux" nickname.

The United Tribes of North Dakota board of directors has approved a resolution — asking that the name be changed.

North Dakota has five tribes within its borders. They are the Standing Rock Sioux, the Spirit Lake Sioux, the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux.

The resolution also asks the NCAA to prohibit UND from using the nickname and an Indian head logo during post-season tournaments.

UND President Charles Kupchella says the nickname and logo are used with respect and honor. He spoke this week at an inter-tribal council summit meeting in Bismarck.

But tribal leaders say Kupchella didn't convince them that the nickname and logo should be kept.

There's no word on whether the Spirit Lake tribal council passed the resolution approved by its members. But even if the tribe didn't adopt the resolution formally, it adopted it informally. The wishes of the Spirit Lake people are clear.

So every tribe except the Spirit Lake Sioux has voted unambiguously against UND. The Spirit Lake people voted against UND, and so did the Spirit Lake tribal council as part of the United Tribes of North Dakota. UND's claims of tribal support rest on one ambiguous Spirit Lake resolution that's been superseded two different ways.

Finally, the NCAA has called UND on its phony claims of support. From the Grand Forks Herald, 9/11/07:

NICKNAME LAWSUIT:  NCAA asks judge to reconsider case order

In its "Motion for Partial Reconsideration," the NCAA argues UND itself may have violated NCAA bylaws, making it ineligible to bring its case.

The motion accuses UND of misleading the NCAA during its administrative appeals process by consistently claiming the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation supports UND's continued use of its nickname.

A 2000 Spirit Lake Tribal Council resolution states: "as long as something positive comes from this controversy, (the tribe is) not opposed to keeping the 'Sioux' name and present logo at UND."

UND consistently has maintained that the resolution should be read as a vote of support for the nickname, but tribal officials did not respond to several NCAA requests for clarification on the tribe's position.

In an Aug. 13 interview with the Herald, Spirit Lake Tribal Chairwoman Myra Pearson said she reads the resolution as neither supporting nor opposing the nickname. She said she does not expect the Tribal Council to clarify its position or to reconsider the nickname issue.

"Throughout the appeal process at issue, plaintiff consistently maintained that it had the endorsement and support of the Spirit Lake Nation," the NCAA motion states. "Those claims are also an integral part of the pending litigation. . . . Based on recent developments, it is becoming increasingly difficult to accept that plaintiff could have made these claims in good faith, much less 'utmost good faith.'"

Racist parties at North Dakota schools
Swastikas = mascots at UND
More racism in North Dakota
Party proves UND prejudice

More on the UND settlement
Feeling bad about "Fighting Sioux"
"Sioux" supporter gives up
Jackson:  Change "Sioux" nickname
UND debate is over
No win-win for Fighting Sioux
Sioux grads say no to UND
"Fighting Sioux" repels Indian students
Sioux to vote on "Sioux"
Some Sioux honored to be mascots
Mascots = civil-rights issue
Shirt links logo, casinos
Standing Rock says no, repeatedly
Traditional Indians are "lost"?
Sioux reject "Fighting Sioux"
Lose-lose situation for Sioux
No "Fighting Sioux" at Minnesota
UND supporters show hostility, abuse
Sioux say no to settlement
UND must put up or shut up

More on UND's lawsuit against the NCAA
"Fighting Sioux" judge was Fighting Sioux fan
"Fighting Sioux" violates UN declaration
UND fibbed about nickname support
Blowback changes vets' minds
Vets support "Fighting Sioux"

More on UND's Fighting Sioux
Chief Tom-a-hawk and Setting Heifer
Bison worse than "Fighting Sioux"?
Why people support Indian mascots
Burning the "Fighting Sioux"
IN THE MAIL:  'Backtalk' backlash:  The hostility and abuse were there in black & white
COLLEGE NICKNAMES:  A lack of support:  UND fails to receive nickname endorsement by tribes, while many other colleges succeed

Related links
Team names and mascots
The harm of Native stereotyping:  facts and evidence
Stereotype of the Month contest

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