N.D.'s 5 tribes oppose nickname at UND
North Dakota's five Indian tribes have banded together against the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname.
A unanimous vote Thursday by the10-member board of the United Tribes of North Dakota marks the first time the state's five Indian tribes have collectively opposed the nickname, said David Gipp, a board staff member and president of the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck.
But the board's four-page resolution goes beyond simply calling for UND to change its nickname.
Tribal leaders are asking the NCAA to deny a UND appeal in which the college seeks to remove restrictions on how it uses the Fighting Sioux nickname.
The NCAA has identified UND and 16 other colleges as having nicknames that are considered "hostile and abusive." Those colleges are barred from hosting NCAA tournaments and from using their nicknames or logos in the postseason.
"I think it at least sends a strong message to the NCAA and to the university," Gipp said Friday of the resolution.
UND President Charles Kupchella spoke about the higher education needs of tribal nations during the North Dakota Tribal Leaders and Tribal Councils Summit Thursday, but he didn't address members of the United Tribes board.
The board met on the United Tribes Technical College campus in conjunction with the three-day summit.
News of the United Tribe's resolution didn't give UND officials pause Friday. The university doesn't plan to change its nickname and will continue its appeal with the NCAA, school officials said.
"We believe our use of the nickname and logo is respectful and appropriate," Kupchella said in a prepared statement issued Friday.
In the resolution, the United Tribes board also called on the state Board of Higher Education and Kupchella to hold formal negotiations with the state's tribal nations, with the end goal being to change UND's nickname and logo "to ones not offensive to any ethnic group."
The resolution says the nickname "allows an atmosphere of hostility to exist" on the UND campus that has resulted in beatings, vandalism and death threats.
Kupchella and Pam Kostelecky, president of the state Board of Higher Education, said their organizations support ongoing talks with the state's American Indian leaders.
But when it comes to discussing UND's nickname, don't expect an agreement any time soon.
The nickname debate shouldn't be settled by the Board of Higher Education, Kostelecky said.
"Our responsibility is policy and procedure," she said. "This is an issue item so it belongs at the university level."
Kupchella and the United Tribes board both referred to a recent statewide poll conducted by The Forum to bolster their arguments for and against changing UND's nickname.
The board highlighted one finding that shows 63 percent of the state's American Indians believe UND should change its nickname if tribes request it.
Kupchella on Friday noted the poll also shows that 61 percent of the state's American Indians are not offended by the nickname.
Gipp, the board's staff worker, said four of the state's five Indian tribes have passed resolutions opposing the Fighting Sioux nickname.
Only the Spirit Lake Nation in Fort Totten, N.D., hasn't come out strongly against the nickname, he said.
Spirit Lake tribal members passed a resolution supporting the nickname and logo as long as it doesn't fuel prejudice.
But the Spirit Lake nation is considering a stronger stance against the nickname, Gipp said.
Attempts to contact Spirit Lake tribal leaders Myra Pearson and Carl Walking Eagle were unsuccessful Friday. Messages left at tribal headquarters were not returned.
Many of the state's tribal leaders attended meetings and a powwow Friday as part of the Bismarck summit.
Charles Murphy, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and chairman of the United Tribes' board of directors, said he would be in meetings until late Friday evening and was unavailable for comment.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526