Spirit Lake Sioux committee warns of 'severe' consequences if nickname goes

Fighting Sioux nickname supporters at the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe responded angrily Thursday to remarks made Wednesday by University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley and Grant Shaft, president of the state Board of Higher Education, who ad...

Fighting Sioux nickname supporters at the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe responded angrily Thursday to remarks made Wednesday by University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley and Grant Shaft, president of the state Board of Higher Education, who advocate repeal of the state law ordering UND to retain the nickname.

In a statement released by the Committee for Understanding and Respect, which has been authorized by the Spirit Lake Tribal Council to speak for the tribe on the nickname issue, the committee warned UND, the state board, the NCAA and the Big Sky Conference to stop acting "against our honorable name as given to UND by our ancestors."

If those organizations don't stop working to retire the name, they should expect consequences "far more severe than any sanctions UND claims will exist by keeping our name," according to the statement.

The committee also said Kelley and Shaft should resign their positions for failing in leadership.

Frank Black Cloud, a committee spokesman, said he was "not at liberty to say" what the "more severe" consequences might be.


"It is something that definitely will let them know we are serious," he said. "We have several options under consideration, but discussing them now is not appropriate because we want to provide these organizations an opportunity to fully realize the gravity of their situation and reach out to the tribe in a renewed spirit of collaboration."

The statement also disputed Shaft's suggestion Wednesday that Notre Dame's aligning itself with the Hockey East Conference rather than a new conference that will include UND may have been influenced by UND's being placed on sanctions by the NCAA for retaining the nickname.

Shaft made the comment after Kelley's address to a gathering of civic and business leaders on campus Wednesday. Kelley called for the Legislature to repeal the law adopted earlier this year mandating UND's continued use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

Kelley said the ongoing controversy threatens UND's entry into the Division I Big Sky Conference, could lead to problems in athletic scheduling and recruitment, and is damaging the university's national reputation.

Shaft, who was present for the address, said afterward that Kelley's comments were "spot on."

In its statement Thursday, the Committee for Understanding and Respect accused UND, the board and others of "playing games" by speculating on consequences of resisting the NCAA, which since 2005 has worked to eliminate the use of American Indian names, logos and mascots from member institutions.

"There is the real truth, and then there are those things they wish us all to believe are consequences," according to the statement.

"Since we have never been allowed into the discussions about our ancestors' gift to UND -- our name -- we have no choice but to go with the truths we know, and we know our proud name has not hurt UND for over 80 years. To suggest otherwise is hostile and abusive, and borders on racism."


Through a spokesman, Kelley said Thursday that "he has said all he intends to say" on the issue. Shaft was attending meetings out of the state Thursday but responded through an email.

"League affiliation is one of our primary concerns with regard to UND's sanctioned status with the NCAA," he wrote.

"For the most part, this discussion has been confined to the Big Sky Conference. However, the hockey team has just affiliated itself with the NCHC. A significant effort was made to bring Notre Dame into that conference, because it is one of the premier athletic programs in the country and has the ability to bring national television exposure to a conference. It is my opinion that the NCHC needed to present its best possible position to Notre Dame and the fact that one of the NCHC's lead schools was on NCAA sanctions could not have been positive.

"As to any claim that the tribes weren't allowed into the process, I would point out that the (State Board of Higher Education) made a significant effort to bring the tribes into this discussion in 2009 by formally requesting that they participate in the BHE committee regarding the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. Our requests were completely ignored by both tribes."

'Not answering us is a non-starter'

Black Cloud said the committee has launched a website, , "to inform the public on the truth surrounding the name and logo."

In its statement, the committee said the people of Spirit Lake "have been ignored and disregarded throughout the whole process, including by UND, the SBHE, and of course by the NCAA. None have ever invited us to the table to set the record straight on the concerns of those not understanding our traditions regarding the use of our name and likeness; and collaborate on solutions that work for UND, our ancestors and people, and any other stakeholders involved."

That lack of collaboration shows a lack of leadership on the part of UND and state board officials, the committee said, and they owe it to the state's taxpayers "to resign their positions out of conscience and to give them over to others who understand what leadership truly is."


The committee challenged Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton, who has declined to become involved in the dispute over the nickname beyond warning that it could jeopardize UND's entry into the conference next year if it remains unresolved. Fullerton has not responded to two recent letters from the Spirit Lake committee.

"We wish to advise you that not answering us is a non-starter," the committee said. "You cannot conveniently claim neutrality now, and refuse to answer valid questions from a sovereign Native American nation about our name.

"This demonstrates an extreme level of ignorance and disrespect on the part of Dr. Fullerton and your conference as a whole. Unfortunately, we are getting used to this level of ignorance from the academic elite.

"You claim our name is not an issue of interest to you and your member schools. Dr. Fullerton, you made our name and likeness your issue when you attempted to intimidate UND into throwing our name and likeness away through veiled threats of non-admittance to your conference. You injected yourself into the issue when you issued the memo after the law was passed; a memo we still feel to this day was in reality nothing more than playing to your part in the greater theater of crafted consequences."

Chuck Haga is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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