Fighting Sioux are now no-names

January 5, 2012
The University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux logo was designed by Bennett Brien, a noted American Indian artist and sculptor.

I've always been fascinated with the ongoing debate over sports teams with Native American names and mascots.

Although many schools and even some professional teams have changed or modified their identities to remove references to Indians and Redskins, some still remain. We still have the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Golden State Warriors. There are also several Minor League teams with Native American names. At the top of the list in the college ranks is the Florida State Seminoles.

The NCAA has been pushing for all colleges to change nicknames and mascots the organization deems hostile and abusive to Native Americans. The list was narrowed down to 18 and each school was given a choice – make a change or risk sanctions including not being able to host postseason tournaments.

Nowhere in the country has there been more of a battle over a name change than at the University of North Dakota where officials fought the change to the bitter end. As of this week, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux are no more. The school's sports teams are playing without an official name or mascot. The sale of all merchandise with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux logo was stopped this past summer. However, according to the university's website, "in order to capitalize on special events, milestones and historic opportunities, the university does intend to protect the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname, and will authorize its ongoing use as deemed appropriate by the situation and university officials. The university will reserve the right to limit the use to select licensees, retailers and suppliers."

Despite support from several Sioux leaders and even a threat by state legislators to amend the state constitution making the name state law, the NCAA won out.

On a side note, a student sports boosters organization known as the NoDak Nation remains at the school. While the school's sports teams will be known as UND teams for now, the boosters go by the moniker NDN – say it slowly. I guess the NCAA missed that one.

The battle to change names goes beyond the professional and collegiate levels. In 2010, Wisconsin passed a law – the first of its kind in the nation – forcing all schools to eliminate race-based nicknames, mascots and logos. A loophole in the law allows schools to retain their names if they can garner support from local tribes.

The movement to eradicate all references to Native Americans in school names dates back 40 years, but the push really heated up in the 1990s. In one of the strangest flip-flops in the effort, a high school in Boiceville, N.Y., brought back its Indians logo in 2000. The name change became a campaign issue and when newly elected school board members were voted in they brought the Indians name with them.

Of course, we have the Indian River Indians in our own backyard.

There are two sides to the debate. Some say any reference is derogatory and demeaning while others say it can be a demonstration of respect.

The roots of the indigenous peoples' problems with sports teams using Indian references in their names has deep roots. Because so much has been taken from them, sometimes their identity is all they have to hold on to.

On occasion, I travel off The Circle and comment on other issues beyond the confines of the Sussex County seat.

  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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