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SIOUX NICKNAME: 'Major' announcement at Spirit Lake planned Tuesday

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Fighting Sioux nickname champions at Spirit Lake say they will make "a major announcement" Tuesday in their campaign to thwart retirement of the name and logo.

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Members of the Committee for Understanding and Respect, acting with the blessing of the Spirit Lake Tribal Council, have scheduled a news conference at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Spirit Lake Tribal Headquarters in Fort Totten, N.D.

Frank Black Cloud, the designated spokesman for the committee, said today that members of the committee, their attorneys and perhaps a Tribal Council representative would make statements, but he could not comment on the nature of the announcement. A news release issued today by the group provided no other details.

Eunice Davidson, a leader of the effort to preserve the Fighting Sioux name at UND, also declined to comment.

In a statement released Oct. 13, the committee denounced remarks by UND President Robert Kelley and Grant Shaft, president of the State Board of Higher Education, both of whom have urged repeal of a state law ordering UND to retain the nickname.

The law was adopted last spring by the 2011 Legislative Assembly, but legislative leaders say a bill to repeal the statute will be presented during a special session of the Legislature next week. House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who introduced the nickname mandate during the regular session, has said he expects a repeal bill will pass, though he intends to vote against it.

'Expect severe consequences'

In its Oct. 13 statement, the Committee for Understanding and Respect 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 earlier statement.

Black Cloud said then 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.

Kelley had 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."

Erich Longie, a Spirit Lake member who long has advocated dropping the nickname and Indian-head logo, said today he was not aware of what the nickname supporters planned.

"I understand what their strategy is," he said. "Their strategy is to get the legislators and everybody to focus on the Spirit Lake vote and forget about Standing Rock.

"But I don't know how that can affect the situation UND has with the NCAA."

In April 2009, a referendum on UND's use of the Sioux name passed at Spirit Lake by more than a 2-1 margin. That result was later embraced by the tribal council, which also formally authorized the Committee for Understanding and Respect to speak for the tribe on the issue.

The NCAA had included UND on a list of member schools that faced sanctions if they continued using American Indian nicknames and imagery, contrary to an NCAA policy adopted in 2005. UND challenged the athletic association's contention that its name and logo contributed to a "hostile and abusive" atmosphere and sued the NCAA. A 2007 settlement agreement gave the university three years to win namesake approval from the two Sioux tribes. Standing Rock's tribal council has opposed UND's use of the name and logo since 1992 and -- despite efforts by nickname supporters -- no referendum has been held there on the issue.

The NCAA placed UND on sanctions Aug. 15 but, in a meeting with state leaders earlier that month in Indianapolis, NCAA officials indicated they expected UND to return to good standing once the nickname law is repealed and a transition undertaken.

Anticipating repeal of the law, the state board on Aug. 15 voted unanimously to direct UND to prepare for a transition that would be "substantially complete" by Dec. 31.

Shaft started that meeting by reporting on the Aug. 12 showdown with NCAA officials in Indianapolis, in which he had participated along with Gov. Jack Dalrymple and other state leaders, who failed to persuade the NCAA to back off. "We have exhausted all avenues," Shaft told board members, "and we are now going to have to retire the nickname."

The Spirit Lake committee has a website, www.savethefightingsioux.com, "to inform the public on the truth surrounding the name and logo," and it has solicited donations to help fund the effort. Donations have paid for an electronic sign facing Grand Forks' busiest intersection with the message: "Fighting Sioux: It's the law!"

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Pioneer staff reports
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