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Loss of Fighting Sioux logo inevitable

By Staff | Apr 16, 2010

Spleens were vented overtime last week when the Board of Higher Education voted to drop the Fighting Sioux logo at the University of North Dakota. The rage was instantaneous.

Contributors to the UND Foundation threatened to cut off donations. The Engelstad family, donors of the beautiful $100 million Ralph Engelstad Arena, claimed that a solemn promise had been broken. Students protested. The Spirit Lake Sioux, after voting for the logo, felt left in the lurch. Mad was on the loose.

With this much hurt and anger, it was natural that Sioux logo supporters would cast about to identify the villains involved in this dastardly deed. Because it made the critical decision, the Board of Higher Education took most of the heat. The attack was rhetorical because there were too many to hang. Armchair quarterbacking ran amuck.

But blame went beyond the board. As a result of local and national agitation over Native-American logos in college sports, the NCAA responded by forcing the issue. The edict was to get tribal approval or drop the name.

Logo supporters on the Spirit Lake reservation won a major victory when tribal members voted two-to-one to endorse use of the logo at UND. However, the effort ground to a halt at the Standing Rock reservation where the tribal council played the Board of Higher Education for the fool by dragging its feet through months of indifference and inaction.

Even after Sioux logo supporters collected 1,000 signatures on a petition to force an election, the council refused to submit the issue to a vote. This stonewalling suggested that the council believed that the tribal members would vote in favor of the logo if they had the chance.

At one time, I felt that the logo was oppressive and should be dropped as a moral matter. However, the vote on the Spirit Lake reservation repudiated that view. The lop-sided vote indicated that the tribal members did not regard the logo as oppressive. It is difficult to argue with their right to make that judgment.

Even so, considering the adversaries involved and the enduring nature of the controversy, loss of the logo became inevitable. There is little doubt that the logo would become a perennial issue in reservation elections. Changes on the tribal councils would continue to threaten any long-term deals involving the logo. National academic organizations could still blackball schools with Native-American logos. And who knows what the NCAA will require next?

A perennial war over the logo would continue to drain time, resources and emotions at the University and on the reservations that could be used more productively. Measuring the costs against the benefits, protecting the logo in an environment of perpetual turmoil has become a loser.

As in all matters of public policy, the issue is not dead. Circumstances could change. However, at this point and in this environment, it is time for the board, UND and logo supporters to move on. Any reprieves would be temporary.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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