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UND nickname deadline still a toss-up

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The chairman of North Dakota's Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says resolving the controversy surrounding the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname is not a top priority for his administration.

In addition, the recently elected leader wrote in a letter to the state's higher education chancellor received Saturday, that the tribe rejects discussing the issue under any board-imposed deadlines.

Meanwhile, members of the N.D. Board of Higher Education on Monday differed in their opinions as to what Tribal Chairman Charlie Murphy's letter to North Dakota University System Chancellor William Goetz means.

Higher Education Board Chairman Richie Smith said the letter clearly means the tribe won't work under a deadline. And if that's the case, "I wouldn't personally extend the deadline," he said Monday. "This issue is more or less holding UND back from going on about its business," he said.

Under an agreement with the NCAA, UND officially has until Nov. 30, 2010 to win approval of the state's two Sioux tribes to keep using the nickname. The NCAA, which considers American Indian nicknames offensive, set the deadline last year.

This fall, the higher education board set a self-imposed deadline of Oct. 31 to hear back from Murphy about whether his tribe would hold a referendum about whether UND should keep its nickname.

And now without a deadline extension, the board would have to consider retiring the 79-year-old nickname, which some have called racist.

However, board member Grant Shaft, who is from Grand Forks, said he understood Murphy's letter differently.

"I took it as though they are wanting to dialogue with this, as though the month of November would be useful to them," he said.

If there was some indication that Standing Rock leaders are working to make a decision on the nickname, he said he doesn't see a problem giving the tribe more time.

The board is scheduled to meet Nov. 19 at Minot State University, and Smith said he expects the nickname deadline will come up then.

Murphy was unavailable for comment.

Tu-Uyen Tran is a reporter for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.