‘Sioux’ debate working its way through the courtsThe University of North Dakota’s hockey team will skate this weekend in uniforms without the Fighting Sioux nickname, but the name, its use and significance continue to fuel debate as it makes its contentious way simultaneously through state and federal courts.
By: By Chuck Haga , Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
The University of North Dakota’s hockey team will skate this weekend in uniforms without the Fighting Sioux nickname, but the name, its use and significance continue to fuel debate as it makes its contentious way simultaneously through state and federal courts.
Nickname supporters and opponents alike wait for word from the North Dakota Supreme Court, which last week heard arguments about the constitutionality of a law — adopted last April, repealed in November and reinstated last month — requiring UND to keep the nickname.
About the same time last week, the attorney representing the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe in its federal lawsuit against the NCAA filed a lengthy defense against the NCAA’s motion that the case should be dismissed.
And late last week, the attorney representing state officials, UND and the state against a discrimination lawsuit brought in federal court by seven American Indian students asked the court to delay ruling until after the state Supreme Court rules on the constitutional question.
The students, including Sioux Indians and members of other tribes, sued the governor, attorney general, State Board of Higher Education and UND last year, alleging that the university’s Fighting Sioux nickname has had “a discriminatory and profoundly negative impact” on them.
Douglas Bahr, solicitor general in the state attorney general’s office, argues in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Forks last week that most of the students’ claims will be made moot if the state court declares unconstitutional the nickname law adopted last year.
(Bahr also appeared before the Supreme Court, arguing on behalf of the State Board of Higher Education that the nickname law is an unconstitutional infringement by the Legislature on the board’s authority. Also pulling double duty: Minot attorney Reed Soderstrom represents the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe in the Supreme Court case and in the tribe’s federal lawsuit against the NCAA.)
In his filing in U.S. District Court, Bahr asked that the first count in the students’ complaint be dismissed. That count alleges that UND and the state officials violated federal law against racial discrimination “by furthering racially hostile conduct, by being deliberately indifferent to UND’s racially hostile environment, and/or by failing to take timely and adequate remedial action.”
But Bahr argues that the complaint failed to cite specific instances of such conduct aimed at the individual students, that such conduct was intentionally discriminatory or that UND and the other defendants either had knowledge of it or were indifferent.
“There is no allegation that UND continues to use the ‘Fighting Sioux’ nickname and logo ‘because of’ its adverse effects upon Native American students,” Bahr writes in support of his motion to dismiss. “In fact, it is undisputed UND does not want to continue to use the ‘Fighting Sioux’ nickname and logo, and is only doing so to comply with state law.”
Also, “it is undisputed UND makes efforts to prevent harassment and discrimination” through its Code of Student Life, Bahr tells the court.
Chuck Haga is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.