Retire name: Early returns favor retiring nicknameEarly returns in the statewide vote concerning the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname show North Dakotans favoring retirement of the name.
By: By Chuck Haga , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Early returns in the statewide vote concerning the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname show North Dakotans favoring retirement of the name.
With 11.7 percent of precincts reporting, the “Yes” vote on Measure 4 was leading the “No” vote by 63.8 percent to 36.2 percent. The “Yes” votes totaled 10,913, the “No” votes 6,203.
With six of 27 precincts reporting in Grand Forks County, “Yes” had 1,539 votes to 580 for “No,” or 72.6 percent to 27.4 percent.
Among the first results, the “Yes” vote was leading in Walsh County with 62.4 percent to 37.6 percent. In Cavalier County, the margin for “Yes” was 62.6 percent to 37.4 percent.
Early and incomplete results from Dickey, Divide, Grant and Towner counties all showed heavy majorities for a “No” vote, though the raw numbers were small.
A majority “Yes” vote would allow UND to retire the nickname. A “No” vote would require the university to keep it.
For the past two years, a great many people have voted on UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname.
State senators and state representatives, Supreme Court justices, members of the NCAA’s governing committees, people of the Spirit Lake Nation, members of UND student and university senates — all have had their say, one way or another.
Tuesday the vote went statewide. But the big question — maybe bigger than “yes” or “no” — is whether this would be the end of a debate that has roiled, frustrated and wearied people in Grand Forks, the region and far beyond for many years.
The answer: Probably not.
Polls conducted in recent weeks showed a substantial lead for the “yes” side, for allowing UND to retire the name. The campaign led by the UND Alumni Association, featuring UND coaches warning that keeping the name could severely damage the university, appeared to be persuading some.
But Sean Johnson, the Bismarck spokesman for the group that circulated petitions to force the referendum, made it clear in an election eve statement that nickname supporters will continue to push for an initiated measure in November to secure the Fighting Sioux nickname in the state Constitution.
Tuesday’s referendum “was only the first phase,” Johnson said. “Our ultimate goal is the November ballot.”
That will require the filing of petitions with about 27,000 signatures, twice the number required for today’s referendum. But Johnson said his group aims to collect at least 40,000.
“We are more than halfway there,” he said.
Also likely to extend the nickname debate beyond today’s election: two federal lawsuits, one by Indian students at UND opposing the nickname, the other by the Spirit Lake Nation against the NCAA on behalf of the name. Spirit Lake’s suit was dismissed in U.S. District Court last month, but the tribe has appealed.
From Grand Forks to Standing Rock
Controversy over the nickname flared occasionally over the years, especially as American Indian enrollment grew at UND. In 2005, the NCAA adopted a policy discouraging the use of American Indian names and imagery by member schools. UND sued the NCAA over that policy, and a 2007 settlement gave the school three years to win namesake approval from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock tribes.
Spirit Lake gave its OK. Standing Rock did not. UND began to retire the nickname, but the 2011 Legislature passed a law requiring the university to keep it. The law was repealed in November after lawmakers were persuaded the NCAA would not relent on sanctions against UND, but the referral stayed the repeal.
Today, voters in Grand Forks, home of the Fighting Sioux, went to the polls to decide the issue. Voters in Fargo, home of UND’s primary rival through the Sioux decades, weighed in, as did people newly arrived to the western North Dakota oilfields from Tennessee and Texas and other distant places, if they’d lived here for 30 days and had come to care enough about a North Dakota school nickname to claim a say-so in whether it stays.
And the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, at least those who reside in the North Dakota portion of the border-straddling reservation, had their chance to vote on the university’s use of their name.
Chuck Haga is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communciations Co.