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UND nickname law repealed by North Dakota lawmakers, governor signs bill

BISMARCK -- Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed legislation Wednesday afternoon repealing the North Dakota law that mandates use of the UND Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

Earlier, by a lopsided margin almost exactly opposite of the vote they cast to defend the nickname and logo in February, members of the North Dakota House approved a bill today to repeal their earlier action and clear the way for the nickname's retirement.

The vote was 63-31, sending the bill to Dalrymple, who at the start of this week's special session had asked the Legislature to repeal the nickname mandate.

The Senate had approved the repeal measure Tuesday evening, 39-7.

"It's a sad day because of the change, but it's needed," said Duaine Espegard, vice president of the State Board of Higher Education, who watched the vote from the House gallery. "Now let's put it to rest," he said.

The board, anticipating the legislative action, had voted in August to direct UND President Robert Kelley to begin preparing for a transition that could be substantially completed by the end of the year.

The bill carries an amendment, offered by Rep. Stacey Dahl, R-Grand Forks, requiring UND to wait until Jan. 1, 2015, before choosing a new nickname and corresponding logo.

Wistful tone

All eight members of the Grand Forks delegation voted for the repeal. Dahl was the only one to speak.

"For Sioux logo and name supporters, this bill marks a very deep sense of loss and sadness," she said.

"Since I was a little girl who made day trips from Bismarck to Grand Forks to watch Fighting Sioux sports, I have identified this name and symbol with an institution that I love very much," Dahl said. "It is emotional and difficult to imagine one without the other."

Everybody can agree, she said, that "the NCAA has been frustratingly obstinate" in its dealings with UND.

"What they failed to realize or consider was the honor and dignity by which the name was used and our unique relationship with our native citizens. What seems particularly offensive is the disregard of our state's Native American voices in this process."

The NCAA, seeking to eliminate the use of American Indian names, mascots and imagery by member schools, has placed UND on sanctions for retaining the Sioux name and logo, which it had characterized as harmful and abusive.

"Was the NCAA right? Absolutely not," Dahl said, echoing the words of Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, who made a similar wistful speech Tuesday as the Senate took up the nickname bill.

"Were they fair or even-handed?" Dahl asked. "Not in the least."

Athletics program

But continuing the fight for the nickname will hurt UND's athletic program and its student athletes, she said, by leading to problems in conference affiliation and scheduling of opponents.

The Big Sky Conference, which UND hopes to join next year, has indicated the ongoing nickname tussle is a problem.

Dahl had been with the majority when the House passed a bill in February enshrining the nickname in state law. That vote was 65-28.

"We thought this law may give us the leverage we needed to persuade the NCAA to change its mind," she said. "I'm glad we tried."

But, she said, "we now face a new reality."

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan and chairwoman of the House Education Committee, had been one of the more ardent defenders of the nickname and champions of confronting the NCAA.

"When we passed the law during our regular session, it was the right thing to do," she said. "We thought we could have an impact on the NCAA."

The amendment requiring UND to wait until 2015 before adopting a new nickname is important, she said.

"It's imperative that we give everyone some time and some space before we go to something new," Kelsch said. "Call it a cooling off time."

There is always the possibility that things could change between now and then, she said. Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe could win its lawsuit against the NCAA, or there could be a change at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

"There are a lot of ifs between now and the 2015 session" of the Legislature, she said.

Spirit Lake nickname supporters, who represent the tribe on nickname matters, said in a statement Wednesday that they will press on with their lawsuit. "We will not lay down and be quiet. Our name will not be retired, and our likeness will never be allowed to fade away."

The group thanked those in the legislature who stood their ground and voted against the repeal bill.

The 'no' votes

Rep. Jim Schmidt, R-Huff, voted against the repeal bill. He represents the district that includes the Standing Rock reservation, where the Tribal Council blocked UND's attempt to secure an exemption from the NCAA policy.

"I feel that North Dakota is built on tradition, and this symbol of Native American culture and symbols like it are all over the state," he said. "But it seems that symbol cannot be placed on a UND jersey. I think that's wrong."

Schmidt said he has friends at Standing Rock and understands that opinion on the nickname there is divided.

But he cited the 1969 naming ceremony at UND, where nickname supporters at Standing Rock say the tribe gave the university the right to use the name.

"It was a ceremony of honor and respect," he said. "I believe the university received that gift in the same light it was given."

From northeastern North Dakota, Rep. Wayne Trottier, R-Northwood, and Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, voted against the repeal bill.

GF delegation

But like Dahl, other Grand Forks Republicans who had voted for the original nickname law decided the risks to UND were too great to persist in defying the NCAA.

"It's a situation we were put into and I'm not happy we had to do this," Rep. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, said after the vote. "It was very difficult for me to change my vote. But the reality is the consequences put on the school."

Democrats, too, expressed sadness. Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks, said "the logo has been an important part of people's lives for a long time, but overall I think this was the right thing to do. We have to look down the road."

Rep. Lonny Winrich, D-Grand Forks, said "we finally did the right thing," though he said the moratorium on UND adopting a new name "is probably as unconstitutional as the law was in that it binds the State Board of Higher Education."

Winrich said UND officials had made it clear "there was going to be a moratorium anyway."

Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, said the repeal "had to be done for the good of UND athletics and our national reputation."

He said the three-year moratorium on a new nickname "is a decent compromise," allowing a period of adjustment or cooling off, "but it does raise the slightest doubt" about whether the long fight is really over.

"The Legislature is still holding onto some control," he said. "But the issue really has been returned to the board and UND, and that's pretty clear and certain," so the amendment shouldn't concern the Big Sky Conference or other interested parties.