University of North Dakota Defies NCAA and Resumes Use of “Fighting Sioux” As Mascot

The University of North Dakota has decided to challenge the NCAA and its threat of sanctions for using Native American names and symbols for its sports team. The UND is bringing back its traditional nickname of the “Fighting Sioux” and said that it will take whatever punishment is meted out by the NCAA. Various universities have withdrawn such names except schools like the the Florida State Seminoles and the Central Michigan Chippewas who received tribal permission to keep their nicknames.


In 2006, the NCAA called on 19 schools with American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots to drop them as “hostile and abusive” to local tribes.

I must confess that I have never been convinced that some of these team names are disrespectful or racist. To the contrary, the team names often idealize the fighting spirit of the tribes. While I strongly believe that these universities have to take active steps to guarantee that the depiction of the tribes are respectful, I do not see why there should be sanctions for the use of all such names or images. I do not doubt that some mascots can be hostile or culturally abusive, but I do not believe that any use of such a name or image is inherently hostile, abuse, or disrespectful. For example, the decision to bar the use of “Chief Illiniwek” by the University of Illinois killed a long tradition at the school that honored that image. I realize that many would disagree with me on this and I am concerned that some Native Americans do take offense at the use of such images. However, I am not convinced that they should have a veto on the use of names and images that are closely connected to these areas. Under the NCAA rules, the schools must get permission from any tribe to use such images. However, the opposition to such symbols has extended to even generic symbols of American Indians. The question is whether a name or image like the Sioux should be treated as essentially proprietary or exclusive for the current members of the tribe or whether it is an image that part of the entire community and its history.

From the Vikings to the Cowboys to Packers to the Fighting Irish, local communities often select powerful images connected to their communities. These tribes are idolized in American culture and inspire people with their strength and dignity. They are selected for those positive elements and the schools often make students playing roles like Chief Illiniwek study the culture and adopt authentic elements to their outfits and dance. Critics of the use of the image make some very good points. It is also true, as some advocates have argued, that “In the time when the mascots were created — the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s — the United States populace did not have a positive view of people of color.” However, that does not mean that they are used today in negative way or cannot be used in a positive, even educational, way.

Some Native Americans do support the use of the symbols though many do not. These views should be given great weight but they are not determinative in my view. I felt the NCAA should have left this matter to the individual communities to hash out whether the use of such images are disrespectful or abusive. I might support the elimination of some images or practices, but it should be done on a case-by-case basis. If a tribe opposes such use of its name, that would weigh heavily in my own judgment. The makes the use of Sioux a close question for me, but I do not believe that the decision to eliminate Chief Illiniwek was warranted.

UND President Robert Kelley noted that the issue will be placed on a state referendum and that the school should wait to see the results of that legal and political process. A law requiring the school to use the nickname was repealed eight months after it was enacted to avoid NCAA sanctions. However, there has been a demand to put the issue to a statewide vote. The State Board of Education has suggested that it may fight the move to reinstate the law.

Of course, I come from a city that roots for the Blackhawks. Putting aside the legal questions of North Dakota state law, what do you think about the ban on any use of Native American names or images?

Source: ESPN

39 thoughts on “University of North Dakota Defies NCAA and Resumes Use of “Fighting Sioux” As Mascot

  1. Common law trademark that needs to be licensed under agreement, reached through consensus with the trademark holders, not the BIA. The approval of AIM would help in my mind.
    Payment for the use of the trademark in scholarships to the school should be part of any agreement.

  2. what do you think about the ban on any use of Native American names or images?

    I take Native Americans at their word when they say some of that offends them.

    Forked man speaks with white tongue …

  3. I wonder about your feelings on the “Redskins” nickname, JT. Personally, I believe in the “Kindergarten Rule” : If the person you’re talking about is offended by the name, don’t use it. No law and no regulation required — just a little common decency.

    If the NCAA has to enforce common decency among its members, so be it. It’s a voluntary organiztion, after all. Those schools all dance to the green music of college athletics. What’s a little pay to piper?

  4. I think your balance and common sense opinions on this subject are very much in line with my thinking, JT. As usual the extremists on each end destroy their credibility through hyperbole and absurd statements.

  5. “what do you think about the ban on any use of Native American names or images?”

    As Dredd said, it’s probably wisest to take the Native American community at its word that some or all of these references are offensive, but I’ve understood the offense. Perhaps some of these mascot names are offensive because they were chosen during a very different no so Indian-friendly time in our history and perhaps not for honorable reasons at all. But, many of those names acknowledge the existence and importance of native peoples who occupied a given area before the white invasion. Often the legacy of a brave warrior past or defender of their tribe is honored to inspire today’s students. I see these as mostly positive references where far too often the legacy of our native Americans has been ignored or deliberately blurred.

  6. It’s offensive when “honoring” a chief is to dress him up in regalia that no chief ever wore and have him dance around in a way that the chiefs dance. If the tribes are offended, it’s offensive and should not be used. If you want to know if an action is offensive or oppressive, ask those who are the target of the offense or the oppression. Those doing the act usually don’t have a clue.

  7. I was reading about the Judges Trial at Nuremberg following WWII when Germans were prosecuted by the United States for making Germany aryian.
    If the Sioux are for this then the NCAA should be on the defendants end of a lawsuit. What does the NCAA want them to name the team: Fighting White Boys?

  8. One problem ND has is who has to ‘approve’ of the use of Sioux? There are dozens of different Lakota nations that use the term, many have said they do object, the college has found one or two that say they do not.

    I like the idea of the Kindergarten rule and I know from my experience here in Minnesota that a lot of people who pretend to see no problem with offensive names are doing it simply BECAUSE they know it offends some minority. (its no surprise to learn that Ralph Englestad, who tied his millions of dollars donation to UND to the continued use of a name that offended, just happened to a big fan of Adolph Hitler).

    If we are going to error in cases like this I would rather do so on the side of being too careful. There is no reason to be offended by the UND Fighting Sod Busters or Mud Skippers or Sugar Beets so were is the harm in changing the name?

  9. I polled the members of my dog pack and we have come to the following consensus: The Wolverines are out because there are few or none in Michigan and the ones roaming in Canada would be offended. The Miami Marlins are out because use of the name will just encourage folks to go to Miami to capture them with baited hooks and eat them. Same with the Dolphins. Baseball Cardinals in Saint Louis are in because they celebrate a local bird that is not hunted or denigrated. Football Cardinals in Arizona are out because that is not a place that welcomes birds in fact they bring in all sorts of humans from California who wreck the desert with daily sprinkling. Washington Redskins are out because the Whiteskins are disfavored. Fighting Whiteys are in for the NCAA if they choose to have a mascot but it doesnt jive with National Council of Alcoholic Assholes. We read up on the Nuremberg Trials and are convinced that the NCAA is trying to make America: NaziCatholicArianAgnostic (sp intentional). We think that the Sioux tribe should weigh in on this issue in North Dakota, particularly the Dakota Sioux and northerners rather than southerners who have their own odd notions of race, ethnicity and the American way. If the NCAA objects to the adjective Fighting then omit that and substitute Pissed Off Sioux. The NCAA is obviously guided byJohnny Cash wherein he stated in that famous song: Anything But Sue!. And, North Dakota is telling them: so Sioux Me.
    Its all a play on words is it not?

  10. I would like to know what the Sioux think of it. I personally think it should be taken as a sign of respect, rather than the other way around. That said, I have to agree with those who have suggested deferring to the Native cultures on their attitudes on it. In light of the attempted genocide of their people and constant attempts (many successful) to break agreements with them, I think it is a little thing to ask.

  11. mespo,

    I agree with you in the respect that this is a Voluntary Organizations……..Where I do differ and this is only because I worked on a few of these issues when working for the Department of Civil Rights…

    How can the Indians capitalize on it on one hand and then complain about it on the other….That just makes illogical sense to me….

    I agree with Dredd…Only the living should be able to complain about its MISUSE…..

    Then we get to the whole area…where…the name Lee comes to mind….How can a school Named Robert E. Lee and the school moniker be the Rebels be considered offensive?

    It is my opinion that sometimes common sense goes away when one is trying to correct what is perceived as social injustice…..

    The Dutch are taking people to court for disrespecting the Sh aria Law…say what?

    It also brings to mind little league and other types of sports….We want kids to get along with other kids but are willing to impose our values upon them when they are playing against the same kids we want them to get along with….it get complicated after that…don’t you think?

  12. AY,
    What if the little league team is named the Redskins and one of the players is a native American? What do you tell your son or daughter about that? What values are we teaching the child when we mock his or her heritage?

    It was already said earlier, but Mespo’s kindergarten rule and Dredd’s rule should be the standard. Even as a Black Hawk fan, I would prefer that they change their name.

  13. I am a UND Alumni and there is A LOT more to this story than is presented here, this issue is a good 7 or 8 years old (since the NCAA got involved.)

    The NCAA stated that there are two Sioux Tribes which must give the University their approval to use the moniker by a certain date, which has past.

    One of the Tribes voted immediately and gave the University their approval by an overwhelming 2/3 majority. The other tribe was not allowed to hold a vote because the Tribal Chairman was against the University using the moniker…polls showed that tribe is also 2/3rds in favor of the moniker. As soon as that Chairman came up for re-election his opponent (pro-Sioux moniker) was voted in by a majority of, you guessed it, 2/3rds. Unfortunately, while he continues to state his pro-moniker stance, he has yet to bring a vote before the Tribe. He says the tribe has more pressing matters to attend to first.

    It has also been brought up many times that the tribe that has yet to vote on the issue held a peace-pipe ceremony back in the 60’s giving the University the right to us the moniker in perpetuity. In that tribe, and many others, a peace-pipe ceremony in regards to an agreement is a binding agreement. The NCAA does not consider this approval, ‘approval’.

    After we ‘lost the right’ to use the Moniker a state assemblyman passed a law requiring the University to use the name, that law was repealled, but as you can see it wasn’t done in a state-wide referendum, which it apparently has to be, which is the reason UND is now pushing back on the NCAA once again.

    I want to be sure to emphasize the use of the term MONIKER. UND has never had a Native American mascot. There isn’t a white kid running around in Native regalia or cartoonish costume. We use a name and a logo (which is a design done by a Lakota Sioux artist.)

    In my 9 years of living in Grand Forks, the closest thing I saw to that is that once ever couple years a Native student association would put on a brief Wacipi (means: “they dance”) prior to a hockey game…

    There is nothing but a large amount of respect from the student body and university towards the moniker and the people it represents.

    What’s most shameful about all of this, to me, is that other schools have been allowed to keep their monikers and mascots simply because they make large payments to the Tribes they represent. UND is a highly ranked school in many regards, but it is not a rich school, it does not take in millions upon millions from athletics like Florida State…it can afford to provide free tuition and other services to Native American Students, but it can’t afford to pay millions to the Tribes every year, and yet the tribes still want UND to have and use the name…UND must be doing something right with that amount of support, just wish the NCAA could see that and let it go.

  14. For a much shorter answer than my previous post.

    There are two tribes the NCAA said UND needed approval from by a date a year or two ago, the Standing Rock Tribe and Spirit Lake Tribe.

    One tribe has overwhelmingly giving its approval with 2/3rds voting pro-moniker.

    The other tribe has never gotten to vote on the matter but polls show they are also around 2/3rds in favor of keeping the moniker. Interestingly enough, that tribe gave UND permission to use the moniker in perpetuity in a peace-pipe ceremony back in the 60’s.

  15. I’m of Irish decent, so Notre Dame needs to change that mascot right now.
    I live in North Carolina, and the derogatory name of Tar Heel, or Blue Devil offends me.

    North Carolina is OK it was named after a European; however both Dakotas (Sioux Indians), Minnesota (Dakota (Sioux Indian) name), Iowa (Ioway Indians), and a dozen other states need to fix their offensive names.

  16. raff,

    I understand your point….and I think you understand mine….I’ll state this…You like Hockey….You like the Hockey Team in your town…If they had to move because of the name, would you still support them?

  17. JCTheBigTree:

    Thank you for that bit of insight. In view of those proffered facts, I think the Univeristy should continue with the nickname. The overwhelming overt approval by one tribe and the tacit approval by the other tribe ok’s it for me. Qui tacet consentire videtur ubi loqui debuit ac potuit. (He who is silent is taken to agree when he ought to have spoken and was able to).

  18. I also advocate a law that stipulates if you use a likeness or name of another for a commercial purpose you must pay royalties from the time of first use at the market rate for such usage during the time frame. Marketing athletics is a commercial purpose. We can find the histoiric and current market rate without too much problem, and figuiring out when the name was first used presents no problem either. This economic rule would probably solve the problem.

  19. My high school team was misfortunately named the “Redskins.” I never thought about the possibility of giving offense until a Native American asked me one day, “How would you feel about a school that named its team the “N****rs”? That cinched it for me. If Native Americans find such team names offensive or disrespectful, we should consider their wishes and not name teams after them.

  20. Very true Steve, but the key is whether or not they (minority or majority group) find the name offensive or disrespectful.

    Redskins, in my opinion, is a term which has far more negative connoctations…from it simply referring to the shade of skin to it referring to the blood scalps of Natives brought back to frontier towns for sale after battles.

    Knowing a large number of Lakota Sioux, I know that the majority are in favor of North Dakota using the moniker “Fighting Sioux”, though some do have a slight issue with the ‘Fighting’ part…which in actuality is rarely used. “The Sioux” is the more commonly used term. Many have a sense of pride and ownership of the Fighting Sioux moniker and feel it is one more thing being taken away from them.

    Along with that, many of those who I have spoken to, believe keeping the name helps keep the plight of their out in the open and that by forcing the removal of the moniker, the NCAA is helping to sweep the injustices against Native Americans under the rugs, helping to further marginalize their people and reservations.

    I’ll also say that when I was at UND (prior to the NCAA demands) the groups protesting the name were 90% white professors/extreme liberal individuals. And while I liked most of those professors, they seemed to be guided by a sense of white guilt which helped blind them to the fact that the majority of Sioux were in favor of the moniker.

  21. Personally, I’m offended by the Fighting Irish brand.

    They left out the drunk and singing appellations.

    Everyone knows the fighting goes along with the drinking and singing.

  22. Steve:

    Redskins are also peanuts. You could just have the Planters Peanut as a mascot and call yourselves the Fighting Goobers or the Charging Cacahuates.

  23. As an American Indian, I am offended by the use of my cultural icons by non-American Indians as “mascots” (even that word offends me). You stole our land and killed my ancestors; now, you want to use icons of the culture you tried to destroy and expect me to like it. I do not believe that it shows respect for American Indians. It just shows that the conqueror gets to use images of the conquered as they please. On all other issues, I have the highest regard for Professor Turley. Not this one.

  24. I don’t claim to be an expert on this issue but I live
    in Minnesota very close to the North Dakota border and
    have been following this debate since the NCAA and UND entered into an agreement whereby the nickname would be
    retired unless UND could get the two Sioux tribes in the
    state, Standing Rock and Spirit Lake to agree to continue
    using the nickname. The deadline for this was set at Nov. 30, 2011. Standing Rock voted to keep the nickname but Nov. 30 came and went with the Sprit Lake Tribal Council never calling for a vote. At this point UND
    considered there only alternative was to begin a transition phase which would result in retiring the nickname. Failure to comply would result in NCAA sanctions against UND.

    And herein lies the controversy. The state legislature
    got involved and passed a law requiring UND to continue
    using the nickname. This law would later be repealed
    when athlectic conferences under the juridiction of the
    NCAA began to raise concerns about UND’s participation
    as long as the nickname issue was not settled. The Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin have refused to
    play UND.

    Currently a petition drive has garnered 16,770 signatures (they needed 13,500) to force a statewide
    vote on the matter in June. This is what prompted UND
    to reverse itself and reinstate the nickname, something
    I don’t think they wanted to do.

    I have a couple of qwestions or concerns about this episode. First, since Spirit Lake was never allowed
    to vote, does this alter in any way the terms of the
    agreement entered into by UND and the NCAA? Secondly,
    if it doesn’t should the petioners have been allowed to
    proceed? Shouldn’t the state or the attorney general
    have stepped in to prevent the crisis that now faces UND? If the measure were to pass in June, UND would be
    faced with the prospect of keeping the nickname but
    not being able to have it’s athletic teams participate
    in any conference.

    There is one possible solution, there may be plans to have the State Supreme Court rule on the constitutionality of the original law that required UND
    to keep the nickname.

    Personally I like the nickname and do not feel it is
    racist or abusive in any way and I think the NCAA wields
    too much power. Whichever way this ends up, I wish the
    best for UND.

  25. I have read all of the comments above carefully. A two thirds to one third vote sounds good at first but then one must consider the thoughtful folks in the one third who might have good insight and see that this moniker denigrates folks in the tribe and might do harm to kids in the tribes.

    Bonnie’s comment above has won me over. It is the term mascot which makes the whole thing offensive. We are not going to offend a Wolverine but we might offend members of a tribe so named, or any Native American, whether in the U.S., Canada, Mexico.

    In my prior incarnation as a human (before I was a dog) there was some Osage in my ancestors. I was always proud and glad of that. In that life I was a lawyer and picked a jury in southwest Missouri. My client was Osage. There were about sixty five plus folks on the panel and when I popped the question as to whether anyone was of American Indian extraction, about 60 raised their hands. Mostly Osage and Cherokee.

    Now Fighting Irish doesnt bother me. I never knew that the Irish were discriminated against until I saw the movie Blazing Saddles.

    I now side with Bonnie on this– drop the moniker, especially the Fighting part.

    I wonder what Winston Churchill would say on this issue. Did any of you know the ancestory of Jennie Jerome, his mother? He was a genuis, a great writer, and a great war time leader. What was his tribe?

  26. sheafferhistorian, that is why I only use the term, “American Indian” when referencing my heritage. I would like to add one more thing about this discussion. The reason why the adult American Indians are waging this battle of images is for the children. We want the children to grow up with less negative and less violent images of who they are. When I was a little girl, my family was in a car at a drive-in (remember those?) watching a John Wayne western. My Dad was a great John Wayne fan. He was busily killing Indians and I started crying. I told my Mom I didn’t like the Indians and I didn’t want to be one. So, she quietly explained to me the difference between me as a real American Indian and normal human being and the Hollywood Indians. It satisfied me for then; but, I had two other experiences afterwards that needed her comforting explanations before I learned to be proud of my heritage.

  27. I neglected to point out in my post that the order of
    events is actually a little different than the way I presented them. The bill passed by the legislature to
    force UND to keep the nickname was actually passed last
    spring in hopes it would persuade the NCAA to ease its
    sanctions against UND which of course it didn’t. Then
    came the concerns from the athletic conferences which
    was followed by the legislature repealing the law. I’m
    not sure when the petition drive was initiated but the
    required signatures had to be secured by Feb 7th to force
    a statewide vote which is where we’re at now.

  28. Far be it for anyone to judge what is offensive to a culture other than their own. It’s not really a matter of degrees either.

    Please – this is not to be offensive – merely illustrative: What if the Redskins were Blackskins, Chinks, Coons, Kikes, Polacks … and so on?

  29. I went to the U of Illinois, and was saddened when they were forced to get rid of Chief Illiniwek, who came out and did authentic Amerind style dances at halftime. The Chief was always very dignified in his presentation, and never did anything I would describe as caricature. But the political pressure was overwhelming.

  30. Can you people please, plese get a life?

    As far as the phrase “American Indian” uh, the name America comes from the Spanish who FIRST began killing
    and claiming land, and that makes you happy to be called that?

    I am Celtic by heritage. My race in Scotland was brutally enslaved by the Britons and by the Romans with the aim of wiping us from the face of the earth.

    Just about every culture/race has, at one time or another, throughout history, been enslaved etc.

    As a Native Born Son of Mississippi I have to watch as cultural icons of my heritage are destroyed and legislated against, by people of ignorance as to their true meaning and background.

    It’s a cruel world out there campers, put on your “big girl/big boy” underwear and deal with it!

  31. The name “red skins” refers to the color of the scalp of an Native American, this color was red, as you can guess it was blood. This term is very offensive, I should know I am Native American.

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