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UND Indian studies head quits committee

Schneider protests new use of new logo

By Stephen J. Lee
Herald Staff Writer

The head of UND's Indian Studies department resigned abruptly last week from the UND president's recently formed standing committee on Native Americans in protest over the new Sioux logo's being painted on the basketball court.

Mary Jane Schneider, who has taught Indian studies since 1977 and been chair of the department three times, said Tuesday, "I was so disgusted when I heard it and then when I went and saw it, I thought, how can the university do this?"

UND President Charles Kupchella said Tuesday he hadn't known the logo was on the floor yet, but that it still could be removed.

Their comments are part of the rift on campus over the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and the new logo.

The removable wooden court has been renovated, and the new logo of an Indian brave wearing an eagle feather has been painted into the center jump circle of the floor, replacing a basketball.

Disrespect seen

Shneider has opposed the UND Fighting Sioux name since she moved to Grand Forks nearly 30 years ago, she said. "But I had no idea they were planning to paint the new logo in Hyslop, on the basketball court," she said. "This is something that, in the United States, when we put someone on the floor for someone to walk on, we generally mean that as disrespect."

Putting a flag or a crucifix on the floor just isn't done, she said. "If I put President Bush's picture on the floor and invited people to walk on it, how would people view that?" she said. "I think most people would agree that would be a sign of disrespect."

Plus, the logo on the floor violates an Indian tradition of treating eagle feathers as sacred and never allowing them to touch the ground, she said.

The new logo was commissioned by UND from Bennett Brien, a well-known regional artist who is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa based in Belcourt, N.D.

More than a year ago, Kupchella postponed the use of the logo after its unveiling caused controversy.

Ultimatum

In December, UND benefactor and Las Vegas casino owner Ralph Engelstad told the state Board of Higher Education he would abandon the partially completed $84-million hockey arena he's building on UND's campus if the new logo and the Fighting Sioux nickname were changed. The day after the board learned of Engelstad's ultimatum, it voted to mandate UND's use of the nickname and logo.

In the wake of the board's action, Kupchella appointed a dozen or more UND-connected people to a standing committee that met weekly to discuss ways to improve UND's role with American Indians.

-RT>But the "disparity" between the goal of making UND the nation's premier school for Indians while putting the logo on the floor to be walked over was too much for her, Schneider said.

"We knew it was going on the floor and in the ice at (the new) Engelstad, but this thing at Hyslop was uncalled for," she said.

-RT>"It's all saying to me 'We don't give a darn about Indians; we can tromp on them if we want to,'" Schneider said.

Plans to have the new logo in the ice of the new Engelstad Arena hockey rink, as well as in other locations, have been known for more than a year.

Refurbishing

The decision to put it on the basketball court was made when the 20-year-old removable court needed refurbishing, athletic director Roger Thomas said. "We checked around and asked some opinions, and that's what we decided to do," Thomas said Tuesday. "If the president wants to re-look at it, we can do that."

-RT>"The issue of what we are going to do here in Hyslop has not yet been decided finally, finally," Kupchella said. "The floor is not down yet. (The logo) could be removed. We are still looking at whether we will leave it there."

-RT>The committee has been working hard, and has, among other things, discussed ways to find more funding for Indian programs at UND, Kupchella said.

Opposition

Erik Enno, a Sioux tribal member and active nickname supporter, dismisses Schneider's concerns.

It's absurd to accuse UND officials of deliberately placing the logo on the floor to offend Indians, Enno said. If Schneider is so offended by UND's use of the nickname, "she should stop taking the money" and resign her faculty position, he said.

While criticizing Schneider's authority -- as a nonIndian -- to speak about the logo's uses, Enno acknowledges he's not sure it's appropriate on the floor. "I want to ask my spiritual leader about it," he said.

And he's not sure a picture of a feather needs to be treated with the same sacredness as a feather itself at a powwow.

However, Leigh Jeanotte, a UND administrator who also is on the standing committee on Native Americans, said Schneider's concerns are valid and that her input will be missed on the committee. It's likely the issue of the logo on the court will come up at the next committee meeting, Jeanotte said.

"I don't think anyone would want a race of people to be stepped on at any event or any function," he said.

Lee reports on religion and the region. Reach him at (701) 780-1237, (800) 477-6572 ext. 237 or slee@gfherald.com.

Source: Grand Forks Herald, May 30, 2001