We previously discussed the controversy over the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname. The NCAA has banned the use of such tribal names and members of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe and Standing Rock Sioux sued to try to restore the use of the name — something they find not insulting but complimentary to their tribe. I have been critical of the NCAA rule. A federal court has now thrown out the lawsuit over the use of the team’s name over standing.
The NCAA filed a motion in December to dismiss the lawsuit on standing grounds. U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson, a graduate of the UND law school, agreed with the NCAA and dismissed the lawsuit.
UND had received approval from Spirit Lake, but the NCAA still barred its use. As discussed earlier, the North Dakota Legislature passed a bill in early 2011 requiring UND to use the nickname and Indian head logo. However, they repealed the law when NCAA officials threatened sanctions.
Notably, the plaintiffs argued that a 1969 pipe ceremony held on the UND campus with a delegation from Standing Rock and at least one representative from Spirit Lake made the use of the name completely permissible even under NCAA rules. However, Erickson said that “[w]hile the court respects the sanctity and solemnity that tribal traditions richly deserve, the 1969 pipe ceremony has no legal significance on the facts as pled by the committee.”
The decision on standing does not necessarily bar the issue from being raised by the university and other parties in the future, though Erickson expressed skepticism on the merits of the claims by these litigants even if standing were recognized.