Lots of big stakes in nickname debate

Now that the City Beat is playing catch up, let’s talk a little about last week’s court hearing on the Fighting Sioux nickname.

Briefly, nickname supporters from the Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation are suing the state, more specifically, the State Board of Higher Education, for trying to retire the nickname early. The supporters say that, even though they’re not party to the settlement between the state and the NCAA, they are essentially unnamed beneficiaries. The settlement says UND can keep the nickname if the state’s two tribes approve it by Nov. 30, 2010. The supporters say the tribes and, more broadly, Sioux people of the state are, therefore, party to the settlement. As they think they benefit from having the nickname, they say the SBHE’s intent to retire the nickname before the deadline is a breach of promise with them.

The state is fighting back saying that the settlement doesn’t name them because it doesn’t involve them and the SBHE has every right to run its universities however it pleases.

The headline I suggested for the story, "Big stakes in nickname suit," reflects the arguments at court. I fully appreciated that there were other stakeholders out there, but the story was already quite complicated — it had to both talk about the stakes and the arguments each side made — so I didn’t include the other stakes. But I can list all the stakes right here:

  • Nickname supporters among Sioux people: The supporters did a good job demonstrating their point of view that they do benefit from the nickname. There was a video from a ceremony last year at Ralph Engelstad Arena that honored American Indian vets and included tribal drummers. They had 11,000 pairs of eyeballs on them that night and the applause was thunderous. Losing the nickname would mean losing that opportunity to educate the public about the Sioux people’s history and heritage, they said.
  • SBHE: The state board has a constitutional right to run its universities. Losing the court case would infringe upon that right, at least the way the state sees it. See Article VIII, Section 6 of the constitution.
  • Nickname opponents: As many nickname opponents would be quick to point out, the stake for them is continued racist treatment of American Indians on campus because of the nickname. Obviously, that’s their point of view also and, no doubt, they can bring their own testimony had they been called at the hearing. But, since they were neither with the plaintiffs, nor the defendants — the state doesn’t agree the nickname is racist — they were not called. I don’t recall seeing anyone I recognized as a nickname opponent at court.
  • Ralph Engelstad Arena: Let’s face it, the arena has both an ideological stake — ol’ Ralph really liked the nickname — and a financial stake — losing the nickname means spending lot of money changing all those Indian head logos at the arena and some fans have threatened boycott if the nickname goes. Some reps from the Ralph were at the hearing last week.

National media’s take

It’s also worth noting that this case has gone national, as you know.

Here’s the New York Times and here’s the Washington Times. One has a reputation as liberal and the other as conservative, but they strike the same tone.

Here’s the start of the Wash Times story:

The most prominent defenders of the University of North Dakota’s right to call its teams the Fighting Sioux are neither alumni nor hockey fans.

They’re Sioux.

A group of Spirit Lake Sioux won a temporary restraining order last week to stop the North Dakota University System from retiring the nickname and logo, one of the last in the country associated with an American Indian tribe. A hearing for a preliminary injunction is slated for Dec. 9 in Ramsey County District Court in Devils Lake, N.D. 

Most such university team names have been abandoned in the face of criticism that they were offensive or derogatory, but that view isn’t the only one in Indian country. Some tribal members take pride in their association with the Fighting Sioux and worry that eliminating the moniker "will cause isolation and a diminishing of public interest, knowledge and respect for Sioux history," according to the complaint.

Here’s the start of the NYT story:

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Sometime soon, the Fighting Sioux of the University of North Dakota were to be no more, another collegiate nickname dropped after being deemed hostile and abusive to American Indians.

Except that some members of the Spirit Lake Tribe, one of two groups of Sioux in the state, say they consider the nickname an honor and worry that abandoning it would send them one step closer to obscurity.

"When you hear them announce the name at the start of a hockey game, it gives you goose bumps," said Frank Black Cloud, a tribal member. "They are putting us up on a pinnacle."

And so, in a legal standoff that has turned some preconceptions upside down, North Dakota’s top state lawyers will be in court on Wednesday to oppose members of the Spirit Lake Tribe who have sued to preserve the Fighting Sioux name and logo, an image of an Indian in profile, feathers draping down.

The only difference in tone is the NYT story had a nickname opponent speak up, except it didn’t get a Sioux but a Navajo. Neither mentioned that 67 percent of Spirit Lake voters support the nickname, which also defies the stereotype.

Just for fun, here’s the conservative American Spectator‘s take. Predictably the words "political correctness" are prominent:

A North Dakota judge will hear arguments next month in a case of political correctness that has embroiled the state university for a number of years.

In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced a complete ban on hosting post-season competition by 18 colleges that were using Indian mascots, logos or nicknames. The ban was to become effective in February 2006.

The NCAA made an assumption, jumped to a conclusion and adopted the politically correct viewpoint that using Indian heritage in such a manner was "hostile and abusive." The problem, it appears, is that no one bothered to check with the assumed aggrieved parties to determine if they were truly offended. Since the original announcement, the NCAA’s political correctness offensive encountered the stiff defense of several universities and common sense.

The opinion column actually has nothing to do with the Fighting Sioux nickname lawsuit. It was simply used as another occasion to carp on P.C. I actually have an almost reflexive hatred of the concept — writers hate self-righteous dipwads who tell them how to write — but it’s certainly amusing to see how it drives others crazy.

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13 Responses to Lots of big stakes in nickname debate

  1. Anonamouse says:

    You forgot to mention another big stake the University has in keeping the nickname; namely the money they make from selling clothes and trinkets with the logo on it.

  2. C. Y. says:

    Like they won’t make money from whatever name is chosen should the nickname change. Might take awhile but it’s a moot point.

  3. comical says:

    Just the leave the name alone! I mean really who’s gonna remind these Indians of who they are and where they came from? God Bless you Ralph wherever you are!

  4. sam says:

    comical, thanks that made me laugh. Yeah what would we ever do without the nickname, my gosh we would forget who we are and where we came from. ha, ha, ha, and oh yeah, its succchhh an honor.

  5. Bob M. says:

    Here let me save everyone sometime, since we have all heard this ridiculous argument repeated over, and over, and over, and over again. That goes for both sides of this issue.

    All those Indians should just be honored and shut up. If we lose the nickname we should take away all the free programs at UND. No more free school. No more special treatment. No more spots held for them. You don’t here the Irish complaining. You can change it to fighting “insert my name here” because I know I would be honored.

    It makes our children feel degraded. We can name our schools and use whatever logos we want, since it is our image. UND is being held hostage by a dead, rich white guy. I went to “insert event here” and heard “insert insult here.” How can you say you are honoring us when you talk about all the things you are going to take away. You know you are going to have to change the nickname eventually so you may as well do it now.

    Did I miss anything?

  6. ec99 says:

    “Did I miss anything?”

    You forgot to mention that if they change the nickname, they’ll tear down the REA.

  7. sam says:

    Cue thuundderous applause, now see how woonnnderfulll our nickname is!!! Doesn’t it just bring tears to our eyes! Oh my gosh, years, centuries of misunderstanding and racism wiped out in a single ceremony, oh my gosh, I just can’t stand it, it is sooo lovely, if only Ralph were here to see this wonder or all wonders.

  8. S.B says:

    One has to wonder about the wisdom of keeping a name that is so divisive. If it takes court orders and expensive lawsuits to keep a name – then it’s time for the state of North Dakota to acknowledge the very REAL problems associated with the Fighting Sioux name and MOVE ON!!

  9. sam says:

    “Did I miss anything?”

    Don’t forget:
    I will never donate a single penny to the school, ever again
    I will never go to an Indian casino, ever again
    Those lazy, casino, non-taxpaying, Indians don’t deserve the honor

  10. gimme a break says:

    You mean the Indians whose country we stole? They were just savages right? We brought them modernity and all the wonderful advantages they enjoy today, right?

  11. comical says:

    “Did I miss anything”

    Yeah you forgot to jump to attention, click your heels, salute and yell “All hail the Furher, Ralph Engelstad!!”

  12. Bob M says:

    I thought about doing that comical, but then I remembered that I would lose my place in line. Its commodity week you know and I heard they are already low on cheese and Farina. I will make up for it when I attend my weekly apple meeting.

  13. comical says:

    oh yeah, oh yeah one more thing. You have to mention the “goosebumps”. OOOhhhhh! What would they do without the Goosebump effect? Ralph how did you ever think of all these great things.

    I nominate Ralph for the Nobel Peace Prize. Better late than never. Bringing all these Indians together with the white folks.