Measure 4: No surrendering: Sioux nickname supporters vow to fight through to June votePeople working to persuade North Dakota voters to allow retirement of Universtity of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname next month say they’re encouraged by poll results released Wednesday showing their side with an edge among likely voters.
By: By Chuck Haga , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
People working to persuade North Dakota voters to allow retirement of Universtity of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname next month say they’re encouraged by poll results released Wednesday showing their side with an edge among likely voters.
But leaders of the effort to require UND to keep the historic name and logo vow they will continue the fight through to the June 12 primary election.
“It’s nice to know what the score is, anyway,” said Reed Soderstrom, the Minot attorney who led the petition drive to refer legislative action that had opened the door for the nickname’s retirement.
“I wish it was better in our favor, of course,” he said. “But I still have hope.”
So does Eunice Davidson, of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe’s pro-nickname Committee for Understanding and Respect.
“We’re not going to give up,” she said. “We’re going to be out there campaigning, and I am still confident that people will reject the NCAA coming into our state and telling us what to do.
“At some point you have to stand up and fight for what you believe in, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
The telephone survey of 500 likely voters was commissioned by Forum Communications Co. It found that 56 percent said they would vote “yes” on Measure 4 — to allow retirement of the name — if the election were held now.
“If I had guessed about the results, I would have guessed that number (56 percent) out of Grand Forks, but not statewide,” Soderstrom said.
The majority for Measure 4 in Grand Forks County was 69 percent, according to the poll.
‘Fire in belly’
Tim O’Keefe, leader of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, said the results of the Forum Communications Co. poll mirrored those of a survey commissioned by the association, and he said he was pleased to see that “our message is getting out.”
O’Keefe and other alumni leaders traveled the state on May 1 to declare they would take the lead in urging a “yes” vote on Measure 4 because of the “negative impact” that NCAA sanctions are having and will have on UND.
“Those who suggest this impact is minimal are not listening to our coaches or looking into the detail associated with the facts very closely,” he said.
Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader and author of the law requiring UND to keep the nickname, said the other measures on the ballot — especially the proposal to eliminate property taxes — will ensure a big voter turnout on June 12, and that could shake things up.
“We’ll see who has the most fire in their belly,” Carlson said.
He said that “if the people vote to get rid of the name, it’s over,” though he wonders “what will happen if both (Sioux) reservations vote in favor” of UND keeping the name and logo.
His bill was passed by large majorities in both chambers last year, but the law was repealed in November after state and higher education officials failed to persuade the NCAA to ease off threatened sanctions. Nickname supporters mounted a campaign to “repeal the repeal,” which led to the June 12 referral vote.
“As far as the Legislature goes, we’ve been removed from the process,” Carlson said. “The citizens have brought it back. If they vote to keep it, there’s probably another chapter. But if it goes down, there’s no question it’s over as far as the Legislature is concerned.”
O’Keefe again emphasized concerns about UND losing “critical rivalries like Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota State” and its conference affiliation because of sanctions, with the resulting isolation “threatening the very existence of our athletic programs.”
Retiring the much-revered nickname and logo “is not our preference,” he said, “but the price UND would pay to keep it is just too high.”
But Soderstrom said those seeking to drop the nickname are banking on “an unwarranted fear about sanctions that are manageable.”
The Fighting Sioux men’s hockey team played through sanctions that required a uniform change during NCAA playoffs, he said, “and we are in the Big Sky,” the conference UND joined as part of its transition to Division I athletics.
“We have to counter the fear that’s out there,” Soderstrom said. “It shouldn’t be about fear. This is all about what the NCAA has done to disrespect North Dakota and the Sioux people.”
NCAA officials did not respond to a request for comment on the poll results.
Grant Shaft, a Grand Forks attorney and president of the State Board of Higher Education, welcomed the poll results, including the evidence that likely voters are accepting the argument that the continuing fight endangers UND.
“It’s not a question of liking or preferring to keep the Fighting Sioux name and logo,” Shaft said. “It’s the price the university and its athletics department will have to pay if we keep the name and logo.”
The poll shows “a fairly significant number of people have come to the same conclusion,” he said. “I’ve always felt strongly that once people had the information that the board had, along with the governor, the attorney general, the Legislature, the UND leadership, the athletics department and the coaches… they would arrive at the same conclusion.”
It’s not just the announced sanctions, no hosting of post-season contests and no wearing of the name or logo at post-season games and meets elsewhere, Shaft said.
“Those aren’t the sanctions that really have teeth,” he said. “The big sanction is the NCAA urging schools not to schedule UND” if the name and logo continue. “That would be very damaging to the university.”
‘People want to move on’
UND President Robert Kelley said the poll result “underscores the sense I have that the public is very supportive of the university and wants to assure the continued success of our athletic and academic programs.”
A majority “recognize that the risks of keeping the nickname are very real,” Kelley said. “I am also impressed that a significant number of people want to move on.”
Of those likely voters who said they would vote to allow the name to go, 41 percent said it was because “keeping it would hurt” UND athletics, and 33 percent said, “I just want it to end.”
Kelley said he recognizes “that there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue.” But “I am very hopeful the university will be permitted to move on,” he said, “and that we do not prolong the efforts to retain the name and logo if the vote goes in the direction of allowing the university to retire it.”
Nickname supporters who filed petitions to put the issue on the June primary election ballot also are circulating petitions to place a constitutional amendment on the November general election ballot, hoping to secure the nickname in the state Constitution.
Chuck Haga is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald,
which is owned by Forum Communications Co.