Dispute over ‘Fighting Sioux’ nickname has tribe members fighting over suing


As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and perhaps even consider how far our nation has come since the days when the Pilgrims relied on help from a Native American named Squanto to survive, a new lawsuit over whether a university should use an Indian nickname may have some people wondering just how far America has really advanced after all this time.

This is not, however, a story about a Native American tribe suing to stop a sports team from using its name. Surprisingly, it’s a story about a tribe that wants a local college to keep its Indian nickname, the Fighting Sioux.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that one of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the college, Archie Fool Bear, doesn’t have the full support of his tribe. Some members of the tribe can’t bear the lawsuit and think it’s foolish to sue the university. They would rather spend the money now being spent on lawyers on more productive things that would improve the quality of life for the tribe.

Now, that’s an idea worth fighting for.

After finding out about this unfortunate situation, my first thought was, where is Squanto when we really need him? There are better ways to resolve this conflict than by litigating it.

Here is a little background on the situation. In 2007, the University of North Dakota bowed to pressure from the NCAA and agreed to drop the Fighting Sioux nickname. The NCAA had decided a couple of years earlier that schools with American Indian mascots it considered “hostile and abusive” would be banned from postseason play unless the schools received permission from local tribes to use the names.

Some schools like the Florida State Seminoles and the Central Michigan Chippewas obtained that permission, but the University of North Dakota decided to drop its nickname because the two Sioux tribes in the state couldn’t reach an agreement on the issue.

After the North Dakota Board of Higher Education decided to officially retire the nickname, the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe and Archie Fool Bear decided to sue the NCAA in federal court in an effort to keep the nickname alive. Maybe it would have been fine if the university had adopted the name “the Fighting Sue.”

The lawsuit alleges that the NCAA’s efforts to force the retirement of the nickname “violate Native American civil rights, equal protection rights and religious rights.” It also seeks damages of more than $10 million.

The North Dakota News has reported, however, that some members of the tribe strongly oppose the lawsuit and even attended a press conference organized by the tribe’s attorney so they could object. The newspaper reported that:

A few opponents gathered in the back of the room during the news conference at tribal headquarters to object to the actions being taken on behalf of the tribe.

“It’s not our fight,” Arlene delaPaz shouted, while Arliss Krulish declared, “I’m not giving my agreement.”

The newspaper reports that Krulish and delaPaz said they are enrolled members of the Spirit Lake Tribe and UND graduates.

Krulish stated that she believes the money being spent on the lawsuit “could be better spent at home — on housing, medical care, roads and education.”

I agree. Americans spend too much money litigating disputes in court when we could be focusing on less antagonistic and more productive ways to resolve differences.

As we take time this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, we can certainly be thankful for the presence of a civil justice system that provides us with a way to peacefully resolve disputes. However, we should also remember that alternatives to litigation like mediation have a very high success rate, cost much less, and often leave parties feeling better afterward.

It’s time to advocate for a new spirit of cooperation — even in settling disputes. If it worked for the Pilgrims and Squanto, it can work for us, too.

Bob Dorigo Jones, who serves as senior fellow for the Center for America, is the author of the bestselling Remove Child Before Folding, The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever. He also hosts the weekly radio commentary, “Let’s Be Fair,” that airs on radio stations across the country.

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