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Kupchella forms committee to study Native American issues

In response to an increase in tension between the two sides in the Fighting Sioux nickname debate, UND President Charles Kupchella has taken actions to make the campus and the state a more positive environment for Native Americans.

In a statement which appeared in the Dakota Student last week, Kupchella urged students, faculty and staff all to keep an open mind and address the issue with civility and thoughtful debate.

"Again, I call on all especially those who feel some passion about this issue on one side or the other to tone down the rhetoric; such tactics advance on cause, no matter how righteous. The university must be a safe place form which to explore ideas," Kupchella wrote.

In addition to his written statement, Kupchella has picked a committee to explore options that the university may pursue to improve the environment and programs for Native Americans on campus. The members of this committee come from throughout the campus community, providing input from faculty, staff and students.

Director of Native American programs Leigh Jeanotte said that Kupchella's vision with this committee is to further develop the role of Native American culture on campus.

"The goal of the committee is mainly to bolster activity as it relates to Native Americans, and to eventually make UND a premiere institution for Native American students," he said. "I really think that there is a whole lot that is going to be taking place."

Jeanotte said that this does not mean changing anything that is going on at UND right now, but rather to find ways to expand and enhance the programs. This may cover areas such as the athletic programs, improving Indian Studies, or adding Native American curriculum to all majors.

A big task for the committee will be to develop communication with reservations around the state to get their input as to how to help improve the position of Native Americans.

"One major component that has to happen is that contact needs to be made with reservations in North Dakota, and maybe even the surrounding states, in terms of identifying what they see as unique needs, and then how to partner with UND in addressing some of those issues or concerns or needs," Jeanotte said.

Along with the help from reservation leaders, committee members will look at economic development on reservations, research, and look into bringing Native American artifacts to campus. Another problem to be dealt with is how to bring Native American students to campus and keep them until graduation.

"I think that this isn't about the name issue ... This is something that the university has been striving for for a number of years," Jeanotte said. "But I think with the president's commitment and even his remarks in the state of the university address that he had made, he had mentioned that this is a goal of his. So I'm kind of enthused, and, quite honestly, I can see that this could be a huge positive impact for UND and especially for Indian people."