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Let's grow up, change the Sioux nickname and move on

We have something to decide. It's not really that important, not when you consider what else is going on in the world, but it's not mundane either. And it seems like a big deal to us.

Once again, the UND Fighting Sioux nickname and the team's Indian logo are under fire.

So we're going to pretend some things, and maybe that will help us figure out what to do.

Let's pretend we're from somewhere else and have never heard about UND and its thousands of students and alumni, the Fighting Sioux nickname, the Indian-head logo -- and the affiliation of related tribal bands who call themselves Dakota, but who most whites know as Sioux.

And while we're pretending these things, let's pretend we're a calm, gentle people known for our intelligence and balanced consideration.

That's a lot to ask, but take a moment to try to get there, and I'll try, too. OK?

We'll start with the our view of the Dakota. Others named them Sioux. Perhaps from the corruption of a non-Dakota word that may have meant "little snake," but we're not sure. They did not call themselves Sioux. They did not ask to be called that.

Through decades of encroachment by white settlers and soldiers, the name Sioux became a fearsome thing, a word that for white pioneers conjured notions of warriors staunch as iron, of unsurpassed fighting men, of the rage that accompanies war.

Naturally, being a book that shows peace on its cover but puts war in its pages, the American culture and North Dakota would look for a dominant word to describe our young male college athletic teams. Knowing that aggression, strength and courage are as prized on the field of athletics as on the field of battle, knowing we took land from the nearby tribes, we called our young men Sioux.

Today, when Dakota and other tribes say they don't like it that their name is used as a team mascot, officials say it was never meant as a racial or cultural slur.

And they say it honors the tribe. Come now. Officials stepped up use of that argument only after the nickname had drawn fire. Plus, if you're going to honor a culture, shouldn't you do something it considers an honor instead of an insult? And if honor really is involved, why honor any culture for the most violent aspects of its nature?

It's not just university officials. Hundreds of thousands of UND students have gone to school under the nickname.

Most students and graduates feel pride when they hear the words Fighting Sioux. Many are quite vocal about it. And some give the university lots of money. Some are so proud they'll fight on and on to keep that name, and some say they're battling out of pride. They've told me so. Never quit fighting for their pride. Listen to that, will you? Never quit fighting. For pride.

I had that pride. My high school was the Grand Forks Central Redskins. Our athletes won a lot. We were very aggressive, especially in hockey. I was mad when they changed the nickname all those years ago. Pride, again.

That pride is instilled in students, but not imposed on them. People court it because we think we need it. We believe that the people pride makes us are good people to be.


Pride makes us bullheaded. Pride blinds us to atrocity. Pride is a fortress we build to shed contrary views. Pride is the greatest impediment to understanding and peace.

We're wrongheaded anyway to revere warrior nicknames. Aggression and violence are necessary sometimes, but not to be celebrated.

And when our thirst for conflict takes the team name Redskins or Sioux, it is based on our own misconceptions about cultures we never understood and shouldn't be arrogant enough to think we know today.

The fact that some reasonable cultures are offended by the use of the Sioux nickname and want it changed should be enough to guide the actions of any thoughtful person -- and any university.

University leaders, live up to the values you say you hold so highly. Shine the light of education and understanding into your own dark corners. Change the nickname and move on.

Source: Grand Forks Herald,  November 29, 1999