The fight for ‘Fighting Sioux’ continuesMembers of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe who favor UND retaining its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo have turned once again to the courts to block the anticipated retirement of the symbols. They also contemplate an initiated measure to put the issue to a statewide vote.
By: By Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Members of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe who favor UND retaining its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo have turned once again to the courts to block the anticipated retirement of the symbols.
They also contemplate an initiated measure to put the issue to a statewide vote.
Armed with a resolution from the Tribal Council authorizing the Spirit Lake Committee for Understanding and Respect to continue the fight to keep the name, leaders of the committee have retained lawyers and taken the first steps in their latest attempt to save a nickname they believe honors them and helps to preserve their cultural identity.
“An injunction petition has been filed at Spirit Lake Tribal Court,” Minot attorney Reed Soderstrom said Tuesday. “I don’t know if it’s been signed yet. They’ll have to determine whether they have jurisdiction and make the best decision.
“I have been practicing in tribal courts some 20 years, and I’m sure there will be disputes over jurisdiction.”
The injunction would direct UND, the State Board of Higher Education and the NCAA “to stop all activities aimed at retiring UND’s Fighting Sioux logo and nickname.”
Chief Tribal Court Judge Pete Belgarde was in Bismarck at a training program Tuesday and unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman for the court said.
Eunice Davidson and Frank Black Cloud, of the Committee for Understanding and Respect, would not comment on the recent developments. Davidson referred questions to Soderstrom.
The Tribal Council’s resolution, adopted on a 4-0 vote on Friday, stipulates that no tribal funds are to be used for attorney’s fees or other expenses, but it authorizes the committee “to act on behalf of the Spirit Lake Tribe to seek outside resources and support to defend Spirit Lake’s voice and UND’s right to retain the Fighting Sioux name.”
Spirit Lake Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton Sr. did not respond to requests for an interview, and no other tribal council members could be reached for comment.
Spirit Lake defenders of UND’s nickname and logo went through state courts in 2010 to keep the State Board of Higher Education from moving up the deadline for Standing Rock to vote on the nickname issue, but the state Supreme Court ruled that the board was acting within its authority.
In their petition to the tribal court, nickname supporters also seek transfer of the “right of license, use and merchandising of the Fighting Sioux name and symbol to the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe for purposes of furthering the honor of the Great Sioux Nation.”
“There are issues of honor and integrity they would like to preserve with that name and logo,” Soderstrom said. “There also is a monetary issue. I’m told the Fighting Sioux logo is one of the best-selling logos in the country.”
Under a resolution adopted recently by the Spirit Lake Tribal Council, the Committee for Understanding and Respect and its attorneys are authorized “to go forward with the tribe’s fight to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname at the University of North Dakota” and to “seek outside resources and support to defend Spirit Lake’s voice and UND’s right to retain the Fighting Sioux Name.”
The committee, which led the successful 2009 referendum that gave Spirit Lake’s endorsement of UND’s Fighting Sioux name and logo, may also represent the tribe in seeking a statewide initiated measure on the Fighting Sioux nickname.
“It might be the only way the people of Standing Rock get to vote,” Soderstrom said.
“This name, in my opinion, unites cultures and unites the state, and the whole state needs a vote on this issue.”
He said an initiated measure could lead to a statewide vote as part of the 2012 primary election, “but more people could have a say at the general election” in November 2012, when there likely would be a heavier turnout for the presidential election.
A statewide vote would include results from Sioux County, which is entirely contained within the Standing Rock reservation. The reservation straddles the border, however, and members of the tribe living in South Dakota would not be able to vote.
Soderstrom said the Legislature should not repeal the nickname law at its special session this November.
“We need to keep the law in place and then let the people vote,” he said.
Soderstrom said an injunction “may not be necessary if UND and the State Board of Higher Education are not attempting to supersede the state law and retire the name and logo,” but he said the board and university leaders’ intentions aren’t clear.
After failing to move NCAA leaders off their hard-line position on the nickname and logo last month, the state board directed UND to resume planning for a retirement that would be “substantially completed” by the end of the year.
That rankled Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader and author of the law that requires UND to keep the Sioux name and logo. He called the board’s action “presumptive and premature” and an affront to the legislative process. But board President Grant Shaft responded that the consensus at the Aug. 12 meeting with the NCAA in Indianapolis, which Carlson attended, was that the nickname would be retired and the Legislature would amend or repeal the law during a November special session. It was appropriate, Shaft said, that UND plan for that.
“I don’t know what they mean by saying they’re ‘planning’ to retire the nickname,” Soderstrom said. “But if they’re not retiring the name (now), I guess the injunction isn’t necessary.”
Retiring name ‘void of any common sense’
Soderstrom said he also will try “to intervene in the federal court case brought by … UND students” who allege that they have been harmed by the university’s Fighting Sioux name and logo.
“I represent a Sioux nation that disagrees with that,” Soderstrom said.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Bismarck on the eve of the Indianapolis meeting, names Gov. Jack Dalrymple and other state officials and alleges that the pro-nickname law adopted by the 2011 Legislature is unconstitutional.
A 1990 graduate of UND’s Law School, Soderstrom has also represented the more than 1,000 petition signers at Standing Rock who sought a referendum there on the nickname.
Facing sanctions if it did not comply with a 2005 NCAA policy against use of American Indian names, logos and mascots by member schools, UND and the state board sued. Under terms of a 2007 settlement of that lawsuit, the state board agreed to retire the name and logo by August 2010 if it could not obtain the support of both Sioux tribes.
Spirit Lake voted 2-1 for UND keeping the name, but Standing Rock’s elected tribal council — which has opposed the nickname for many years — declined to arrange a referendum.
“As a UND graduate, I could have lived with that if Standing Rock could have voted,” Soderstrom said, but due to the tribe’s sovereign immunity “we couldn’t sue the tribe and we couldn’t get a vote.”
“You balance out the ‘hostile and abusive’ effect that some people assert, which is very subjective, against the real situation where we have a sort of ‘banana republic’ in part of our state that won’t allow the people to vote,” he said. “To retire the name based on that reality is void of any common sense.”
Chuck Haga is a reporter at the Grand Forks Heralds,
which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.