Lawmakers get earful over UND Fighting Sioux nickname repeal
BISMARCK -- As he and other legislators settled in for a two-hour hearing Monday on a bill that could lead to retirement of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname, Sen. Layton Freborg, R-Underwood, pleaded with people waiting to testify to keep it short.
"Remember," he said, "we've heard it all before."
They heard it all again.
A dozen or so people from both sides offered their takes on whether the law adopted early this year, directing UND to keep its nickname and logo, should be repealed. Dozens of others packed the hearing room to listen, including members of the State Board of Higher Education, other legislators and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley.
Freborg, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, only took testimony Monday.
The two committees will meet jointly again Tuesday morning to receive amendments, probably including one that will urge UND not to be in a hurry to replace the Fighting Sioux name and logo.
Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, author of the repeal bill, led off testimony by people who believe it's time.
Reviewing concerns about conference membership and other possible implications of a continuing struggle over the nickname and logo, Laffen noted that he is a Fighting Sioux fan, he voted for the nickname law he now seeks to repeal, and he still believes that "was the right thing to do" earlier this year.
"I've changed because I love UND and I'm seriously worried about its future," Laffen said. "It's the sports program -- not the nickname -- that needs to be saved."
Several Sioux Indians who favor UND retaining the nickname and logo testified again, as they did during the regular 2011 session, that North Dakota should resist "bullying" by the NCAA.
"The logo breeds nothing but pride, honor, respect and spirit," said Frank Black Cloud, spokesman for Spirit Lake's Committee for Understanding and Respect.
The name "was bestowed on UND through the wisdom of our elders, who saw the difficulties ahead for our children seeking an education."
The relationship spawned by the nickname "has paved the way for many of our people to attend UND," he said. "It has created a bond for all those students."
He asked why the North Dakota Sioux tribes weren't brought to the table for discussions with the NCAA, and he asked legislators to "stand with us" in resisting the NCAA.
"We don't need a handful of politically correct individuals to tell us what's best for us," he said.
John Chaske, a Spirit Lake elder and president of the pro-nickname committee, told lawmakers that the Sioux people of North Dakota are proud of the name and don't believe it had been abused at UND.
"We ask you not to repeal the law that honors us," he said.
Eunice Davidson, another leader of the nickname defenders at Spirit Lake, said the Fighting Sioux name "serves many purposes" for members of the Spirit Lake tribe.
"It bonds rather than divides," she said, and it tells a larger audience "who we are and what we have become" as Sioux people.
"We are being attacked," she said. "We are being asked to give up something we treasure."
Archie Fool Bear, a nickname supporter at Standing Rock, reviewed the 1969 ceremony at UND by which he and others say tribal elders granted the university the irrevocable right to use the name.
"Please don't disrespect our ceremony," he said.
But Jesse Taken Alive, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council and a longtime opponent of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, noted that the council had voted to oppose the university's use of the Sioux name in December 1992, and six times since.
Speaking first in Lakota, then in English, Taken Alive also disputed the extent and meaning of the 1969 naming ceremony often cited by pro-nickname people at Standing Rock. Then UND President George Starcher was given a Sioux name, he said, "and that was it."
He urged repeal of the nickname law, which he said embraces "the use of human beings as mascots, because it is dehumanizing."
For UND President Robert Kelley and others, however, repeal would be "best for the university," allowing UND to focus on its core missions and stop spending so much time and energy on the issue.
Kelley also addressed a complaint made Sunday by the Committee for Understanding and Respect at Spirit Lake, that UND had been dragging its feet on a request the committee made for emails concerning the nickname issue.
"We have been working for about three weeks" on the request, he said, which involves "literally thousands of documents." He estimated it would take UND officials 200 hours and more than $5,000 to retrieve them.
UND Athletic Director Brian Faison also focused on the athletic program's future if UND is not allowed to conform to the NCAA policy and get off sanctions. The NCAA "has made it perfectly clear it will not modify the terms of the settlement" under which UND has been on sanctions since Aug. 15, he said.
He cited likely scheduling problems with Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota State and other schools, as well as the possible loss of membership in the Big Sky Conference and eventually the loss of Division I status, which would be "a serious blow to the competitiveness of the program."
Friends of UND
Sen. Dave O'Connell, D-Lansford, said that speaking for the repeal bill was "one of the toughest things I've had to do in my life," but repeal is necessary, he said, because state leaders failed to persuade the NCAA to relent.
"That approach did not work," he said, and UND now "is caught in the middle of a smoldering battle involving the NCAA, the State Board of Higher Education and the Sioux Nation.
"We did our best to stand up to the intimidation and abusive power of the NCAA," O'Connell said, but the need now "is about safeguarding a strong future for UND and its students."
Rick Burgum, a grain dealer from Arthur, N.D., "a proud graduate of UND" and chairman of the board of the UND Foundation, said that UND needs to "memorialize the strong traditions" associated with the name and logo, and "in many of our hearts, the Sioux name and logo will always remain."
But the NCAA "has spoken with finality," Burgum said, and people need to recognize that it's time to stop fighting.
Burgum presented letters with similar pleas and reasoning from past presidents of the Alumni Association and former Gov. Al Olson, as well as a letter from former UND star and current Minnesota Viking Jim Kleinsasser and his sister, Sheri Kleinsasser Stockmoe, also a former Sioux athlete.
They wrote that they would prefer to see the Sioux name live on and continue to represent honor and a winning tradition.
"But we also do not want future university student athletes to be deprived of an experience similar to ours," they wrote, and the loss of conference affiliation "would be debilitating for our athletic programs."
Kylie Overson, student body president at UND, said the controversy has caused many people to lose sight of the university's primary mission, and the "constant media battle has become extremely detrimental" to the university and its students.
Overson was one of several students working the halls Monday before the hearing, "trying to convince this body it's in the best interests of the students at UND" to repeal the nickname law.
"We're talking about the overall negative impact it has on students," she said. "We'd like to focus on something more positive."
But Trista Dauphinais, 15, from Spirit Lake, told the lawmakers that she looks forward to becoming her family's third generation to graduate from college, and she wants to do that at UND.
"My plans are to attend UND and be a Fighting Sioux," she said as the hearing wound down. "Please allow me the chance to fulfill my dreams."
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