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Engelstad family responds to higher ed board's decision to transition away from Fighting Sioux nickname, logo
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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The daughter of the late Ralph Engelstad said Friday that she and other trustees of the University of North Dakota's benefactor's family foundation "feel deeply disappointed, saddened and deceived" by this week's developments in the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo struggle.

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After the North Dakota Supreme Court removed a potential barrier, the State Board of Higher Education on Thursday directed UND President Robert Kelley to begin transitioning away from the Fighting Sioux moniker.

The action is required by terms of a settlement with the NCAA, which has sought to end the use of American Indian nicknames and logos unless namesake tribes give their blessing.

The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe voted last year to authorize UND's continued use of the Sioux name and logo, but nickname supporters at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation have been unable to arrange a referendum there.

The board and UND "are turning their backs on UND students, alumni, citizens of North Dakota and, most importantly, tribal members from Spirit Lake and Standing Rock," Kris Engelstad McGarry wrote in a statement released late Friday.

McGarry, Las Vegas, is one of four trustees of the Engelstad Foundation, which also includes her mother, Betty Engelstad.

When the family announced a gift of more than $100 million more than a decade ago to finance construction of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, UND officials "assured us they supported the use of the name and logo and were committed to its retention," McGarry wrote.

At one point when it appeared that the nickname and logo might be dropped, Ralph Engelstad threatened to tear it down if that happened.

His daughter said the university asked the family in 2006 to fund the legal fight against the NCAA, "and we agreed to do so" because of UND commitments on the name and logo.

"It is clear that our family was deceived," she wrote in the statement released Friday, "and it is also clear that the memory of my father has been irreversibly disrespected by the university and the State Board of Higher Education."

When the higher education board voted in 2006 to authorize Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to sue the NCAA on UND's behalf, the board stipulated that the legal work had to be financed only by private contributions.

Charles Kupchella, UND president at the time, said the school had had dozens of donor offers "from all over the country" but did not identify them. As to the lawsuit expense, "I think we have it covered," he said.

Reports since have suggested the Engelstad family provided the lion's share of the donated legal expenses.

McGarry wrote a similar statement expressing disappointment after the State Board's vote in May 2009 to retire the nickname, the decision that was suspended for various reasons until the Supreme Court lifted an injunction Thursday. It was the failure of a motion (for lack of a second) to reconsider that action that signaled the apparent end of the logo fight.

In May 2009, McGarry said the board members and Kelley were "not committed to retaining the Fighting Sioux name and logo," adding, "I can't say that I'm surprised by their lack of conviction."

UND spokesman Peter Johnson was not immediately available for comment Friday night. In response to the 2009 statement, he said UND is "very appreciative of the tremendous contributions" by the Engelstad family and its foundation.

"We understand there are very strong feelings among folks on all sides of this issue," Johnson said then. "We have great respect for those feelings."

McGarry wrote Friday that her father "was enormously proud to be identified with the Fighting Sioux and its honored heritage" and believed the association benefitted both the university and the tribal communities.

"The Sioux warriors were known for their courage, pride, overcoming adversity and winning battles," she wrote.

"We remain steadfast in our dedication to the students, the alumni and the Fighting Sioux tradition at UND. We will never waiver from this position and we (will) never forget this shortsighted and ill-advised decision."

As she did last year, she quoted a statement her father made to demonstrate why the issue is important to the family and the foundation:

"Tradition is that gentle fabric woven through time and experience which generates meaning, character and identity to one and all. The Fighting Sioux logo, the Fighting Sioux tradition and the spirit of being a Fighting Sioux are of lasting value and immeasurable significance to our past, present and future."

Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co., which also owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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