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Thirty years of telling us to be honored

Holly Annis, Contributing Writer

It was the fall of 1930. University of North Dakota students, faculty, staff and alumni were getting ready for the annual homecoming celebration. This particular year also marked the change of the UND nickname from the Flickertails to the Fighting Sioux.

Professor Emeritus Alvin E. Austin, the long-time head of the journalism department, then was the editor of the Dakota Student, UND's student newspaper, and he was also the homecoming chairman. Austin was the key player in changing the name.

Two letters to the editor appeared in the Dakota Student in September 1930 agreeing the time had come to change the name of UND's athletic teams from the Flickertails. Two editorials in that same issue agreed. Austin wrote the letters to the editor and both editorials. One week later the Athletic Board of Control seized the proposal and overnight the Flickertails became the Fighting Sioux, without apparent input from American Indian people or UND Alumni.

North Dakota State University (NDSU) and the University of North Dakota (UND) are rival universities. Flickertails were hardly a formidable foe against the might Bison. The name Fighting Sioux was chosen for a variety of reasons:

These items were taken from a letter to the editor in the Dakota Student later that fall, not authored by Austin, but signed with the initials E.A.H.

A group of American Indian students, in 1969, formed UND's first Native student group, University of North Dakota Indian Association (UNDIA). In May of 1970 this student group held a protest in front of the University Student Center. Tipis were set up and sarcastically called the UND Indian Culture Center. Leaflets were circulated, calling for a culture center, and Indian Studies Program and to stop the use of the Fighting Sioux name.

Sammy the Sioux was the mascot. These students met with then UND president George W. Starcher to voice their inequities. The UNDIA Cultural Center is dedicated in 1971 and the Indian Studies program is started offering two classes. The use of Sammy the Sioux was stopped. The Fighting Sioux was kept as a logo and symbol of the athletic teams.

In February 1972, UND decided to hold the King Kold Karnival, a weekend-long outdoor carnival with ice sculptures, games, prizes and the like. Several fraternities and sororities created offensive sculptures. The Sigma Nu fraternity created a bare-breasted woman with brown paint thrown across its chest with the words "Lik em Sioux" posted at the bottom. UNDIA members asked UND Administration on two occasions to have the offensive sculptures removed, but no action was taken.

Native students, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and UNDIA members demolished the sculptures. A fight broke out between one Native student, George Whirlwind Soldier, and several fraternity members. Whirlwind Soldier was arrested and charged with three counts of assault and battery. Then UND President Thomas Clifford posted the bond and Whirlwind Soldier was released. Later the charges were dropped. The Dakota Student quoted members of UND's Greek community as saying better dead than red, and the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Native students again protested the use of the Fighting Sioux and Sioux Indian head.

From 1973 until 1990, the protests and actions to stop the use of Fighting Sioux flared up time and time again. UNDIA members continued to raise the issue of local schools using indigenous people as mascots, logos and symbols. At one point several different businesses in Grand Forks posted signs that read, "Redskins, go back to the reservations. Leave their name alone."

The Seven Feathers Club is a traditional dance club for American Indian children. This club participated in UND's 1992 homecoming parade. The children on the float ranges from 3 years old to 14 years. Behind their float were members of UND's Greek community. These students proceeded to taunt the children with phrases like, "Go back to the reservation, Dirty Indians,": and "Tell your parents to get off welfare."

Because of these actions, Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR) was formed. President Kendall Baker announced the following course of action: The students involved in the homecoming incident would apologize and attend multi-cultural events, two educational forums would be held, and the University of North Dakota would not change its team name.

In the spring semester of 1993, the University Faculty Senate passed a resolution in support of a name change. President Baker released a statement announcing the results of the educational forums and a new course of action. It was decided the name would not be changed because of the great feeling of pride and tradition. The real issue was the need for more education about diverse cultures, using the royalties from the sanctioned logo to fund scholarships for Native American students, cultural programming at athletic events and assistance for various UND Native American organizations. He also suggested the talents of UND's faculty and researchers be made available to tribal councils, undertaking efforts to educate the university community, the general public and opposing teams and fans about the rich heritage of the Sioux nation, and including presentation ins every athletic program highlighting and explaining Indian symbols, history and culture.

The logo fund, deemed blood money by the campus Native American newspaper, was offered to several different Native American programs across campus. All of these programs declined the money. There is no evidence that any educational presentations regarding the use of the Indian for any athletic programs on campus is taking place. There is, however, a disclaimer read at the beginning of every athletic event proclaiming the proud use of Fighting Sioux.

Students from NDSU were accused of demonstrating derogatory behavior towards Native people at a 1994 basketball game against UND. Then NDSU President J.L. Ozbun apologized. American Indian students protested the use of Fighting Sioux. The incidents of racially motivated acts of violence, harassment, hate mail and even death threats continued to climb. Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR), the group formed after the '92 homecoming incident, changed its name to Building Roads Into Diverse Groups Empowering Students (BRIDGES). President Baker announced the scheduling of more educational forums in 1997 and 1998.

A resolution to discontinue the use of Fighting Sioux was brought before UND Student Senate on Jan. 31, 1999. Resolution 18 passed 12 for, 10 against and one abstaining. Student Body President Jonathan Sickler immediately vetoed the resolution, thus returning the decision to the student senate. A similar resolution was brought before the North Dakota House of Representatives in Bismarck by Rep. Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge, who introduced the resolution in February. Froelich gave a graphic example how the Sioux nickname hurts. He asked members of the legislature to write their own ethnic background on a piece of paper, then he instructed them write below that, the word sucks. He asked if they were still proud of it, to hold the paper up for all the world to see. Despite Froelich's demonstration, the resolution received a do not pass vote.

The UND Student Senate met again on Feb. 21 to vote again on the Resolution 18. The Senate needed a two thirds vote to overturn Sickler's veto. Jesse Taken Alive, former chairman of the Standing Rock Nation, gave a presentation in favor of a name change. He presented the senate with a packet of information, including signed resolutions by 10 different Tribes throughout North and South Dakota. Standing Rock Nation, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Spirit Lake Nation, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton/Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe and Three Affiliated Tribes, all are recognized governmental entities. He also presented the original copy of this packet to Chase Iron Eyes, UND student and BRIDGES member. Taken Alive instructed Iron Eyes to give the packet to President Baker. Iron Eyes presented the packet to President Baker. President Baker tells a UND student and name change supporter that he will disappoint her.

American Indian students at the University of North Dakota have been protesting the use of Fighting Sioux for 30 years. Thirty years of perpetuating archaic stereotypes of Native people. Thirty years of educational forums. Thirty years of telling us to be honored.

(Holly Annis is a UND student and member of BRIDGES)

Source: High Plains Reader,  March 4, 1999