GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The University of North Dakota’s controversial “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo appeared to get new life today as the State Board of Higher Education voted to extend its deadline for resolving the issue to the end of the month.
And an outspoken critic of the nickname and logo lost his position of leader of one of the namesake Sioux tribes.
Ron His Horse Is Thunder, who had appeared before the higher education board last month to denounce continued use of the name by UND athletic teams, was soundly defeated as Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman in tribal elections Wednesday.
According to unofficial final results, His Horse Is Thunder lost to former Tribal Chairman Charles Murphy, 64 percent to 36 percent. It was unclear to what extent the nickname issue affected the voting.
Legal settlement’s terms
According to a legal settlement with the NCAA, the university had agreed to drop the longtime Fighting Sioux logo and nickname if it could not win approval from two namesake tribes: Standing Rock, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border, and Spirit Lake in the north-central part of the state.
The agreement with the NCAA, which has contended that American Indian logos are derogatory, set a deadline of February 2010. The State Board of Higher Education moved it up to Oct. 1, in part to resolve the matter in time for UND to apply for membership in an athletic conference whose leaders had expressed qualms about the ongoing controversy.
After a referendum earlier this year at Spirit Lake resulted in 67 percent of tribal members voting to approve continued use of the Sioux name and imagery at UND, the tribal council there voted to grant the university “perpetual” rights to use them.
Refused to hold referendum
The Standing Rock council, under His Horse Is Thunder’s leadership, has refused to hold a referendum and has opposed UND’s retention of the moniker, which has been in use in various forms since the 1930s. Opponents decry it as racist and demeaning, especially to Indian students of all tribes at the university.
Nickname defenders on the Standing Rock reservation have said they believe a referendum there would echo the result at Spirit Lake. There was no early indication that Murphy and the new tribal council would schedule a nickname referendum or other action by Oct. 31.
Reflecting the passions aroused on both sides by the fight over the Fighting Sioux logo, UND President Robert Kelley on Monday urged the university community “to focus on the university’s core mission … in an environment that lines up with the university’s core values. These include the right and the freedom to express one’s views in a civil manner and to express and respect honest differences of opinion, also in a safe and civil environment.”
In a rally on campus Wednesday, organized to appeal to the state board not to extend its deadline, about 75 nickname opponents heard American Indian Movement co-founder Clyde Bellecourt proclaim, “We are winning” as schools around the country let go of their Indian nicknames, logos and mascots.