On Tuesday, North Dakotan voters will decide whether to change the University of North Dakota’s (UND) 82-year-old mascot and logo, the “fighting Sioux.”
Last year, the state passed — and later repealed — a law that would have required UND to keep the name.
The battle isn’t new. Alumni and American-Indian associations have been divided over the name since the late 1960s, with groups from each community on both sides of the debate. Tuesday’s vote on Mandate 4, however, is one step closer to the end of the argument.
Tim O’Keefe, the executive vice president and CEO of the UND Alumni Association, is urging a “yes” vote because he says keeping the name may cost the athletics program its NCAA sanction, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reports. He also says some schools refuse to play the “fighting Sioux” and prospective students have declined scholarships because of the name.
In 2006, the NCAA decided to prohibit colleges from “displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships.”
Other mascots the NCAA disapproves of include braves, savages, Choctaws, Seminoles and Indians.
“And if you look at other institutions that have dealt with [the NCAA], there’s no give,” O’Keefe told MPR. “There’s no negotiating in your dealings with the NCAA. You don’t have to like it, but it is what it is.”
Eunice Davidson, a leader of the pro-name Committee for Understanding and Respect for the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation, says the alumni association’s message is a fear tactic, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
The committee led a petition responsible for putting the vote on Tuesday’s primary ballot and is now collecting signatures for a petition that would put a measure on the November general election ballot. The committee is more than halfway to their goal of 40,000 signatures.
Davidson argues keeping the name is about upholding tradition, honor and respect for the Sioux Indians, standing up to bullies and listening to the Sioux people.
She participated in rallies last week with American Indians and other supporters of the nickname in Fargo, North Dakota to urge a “No” vote, but their efforts face tough competition from UND’s alumni association, which has spent close to $250,000 on advertising.
UND had an enrollment of 329 American Indian and Alaskan native students last year — just more than 2 percent of the student body.