May 18, 2009

Yeagley Loses Again, No Surprise There

North Dakota Bars Racist Indian Masco

After several years of fighting to keep sports teams named after Indians – despite arguments from Native American groups that such labeling is offensive and racist – another university is being forced to drop its Indian head logo.

In North Dakota, the Board of Higher Education has agreed to squash the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname, following the campus’ decades-long dispute. But, if leaders of North Dakota's Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes grant permission by Oct. 1 for the university to use the name and logo – a profile of an American Indian man with feathers and streaks of paint on his face – the mascot could still be saved. That seems unlikely since tribal leaders have been fighting the matter for at least three decades. If no permission is given, the logo will be retired eternally beginning August 2010.

"This has been a long-standing tradition at UND, and I think the board action now instructs the university to develop new traditions," University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley told The Associated Press.

It appears that the university’s decision wasn’t based entirely on altruism. UND has been seeking to join the Summit League, an 11-member NCAA Division I conference that is seeking a 12th school, but the logo dispute has been an obstacle.

"What this permits the University of North Dakota to do is to start a marketing initiative," Kelley said. "Over time, I think we would see enhancement of our revenue structure for athletic programs. I think we would see the enhancement of fan interest."

The University of North Dakota has called its sporting teams the Fighting Sioux since 1930; the nickname replaced Flickertails. Supporters of this and other Indian monikers have argued that they are meant to honor Native Americans. Others say they are racist and demeaning and dehumanize Indians.

In 2005, the NCAA declared the Fighting Sioux a “hostile and abusive” nickname, barring the University of North Dakota from all NCAA postseason tournaments until it changed it.

North Dakota isn’t the first campus in recent years to change its nickname to something less demeaning to Indians.

St. John's, the largest Catholic university in America, dropped its "Redmen" nickname in favor of "Redstorm"; University of Tennessee at Chattanooga discontinued the use of its "Chief Moccanooga" mascot; Miami University of Ohio (Oxford, Ohio) dropped its "Redskins" nickname; the Iowa Civil Rights Commission passed a Resolution Opposing the Use of Native American Images, Mascots, and Team Names in Iowa; West High School in Oshkosh Wisconsin retired its Indian-themed mascot; Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts decided its sports teams would no longer be known as “Mohawks”; Southeastern Community College, in West Burlington, Iowa, dropped the "Indian" association to its "Blackhawk" nickname and changed it to reflect a bird of prey, the "Black Hawks"; Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn., changed its sports team nickname from "Indians" to "Redhawks."

There have been other examples of institutions taking a more sensitive approach. For example, several newspapers that have adopted guidelines barring the use of such racial slurs as “Redskins” in describing sports teams.