In North Dakota, one the most controversial social issues encompass the
University of North Dakota's school nickname "Fighting Sioux" and logo
of an Indian Head. I will begin with some editorial quotes that
manifest the language to describe the perception of Sioux people from a
White perspective. We must also understand that in the 1930s, American
society was still operating under the Jim Crow Law and majority of
American Indians were still confined to reservations. In 1970s, the
controversy about the University nickname began when the American
Indians students started arriving on campus from reservations to obtain
education. The American Indian students protested the practice of this
school tradition, ritual, and cheers that are associated with the
University nickname and logo; this lead to the establishment of a
student organization called University of North Dakota Indian
Association (UNDIA). For the next 40 years various tribes and
organization request the UND to drop its nickname and logo. But they
were ignored and in 2011 the "Fighting Sioux" transcended into a state
During the fall semester of 1930, two University of North
Dakota (UND) students didn't feel powerful about attending a school that
had a nickname called the Flicker Tails, especially when their rival
school was called the Bison. In a sport like football, the game is
about physical strength, endurance, strategic plays, and mental
toughness. I imagined a Flicker Tail not having much of a chance in a
match against a Bison if they really had to battle it out. Not only is a
Flicker Tail a small ground squirrel, but you can't really fit it into
any cheers and have the cheerleaders yell it out to the fans. It really
doesn't rhyme with any words either. So what kind of name would really
fit the sports teams, pep rally cheers, and songs to be able to stand up
According to Dakota Student newspaper, two students
(these two students are nameless and the UND special collection
microfilm starts from September 17, 1930) suggested the word "Sioux,"
which is a better agent for exterminating Bison. Sioux have a war like
physique and it easily rhymes with other words for yelling cheers and
songs (September 23, 1930). The support for a new pep name was expressed
in the editorial of the Dakota Student. Alvin Austin wrote "a more
fitting and colorful name would be hard to find" (September 23, 1930).
He went on by saying "they (two students) pointed out that a
"Flicker-tail" must always be held somewhat in awe of the larger, more
impressive Bison of the Agriculture College (A.C.), and that it can't
wage a very successful mental battle against Bears, Huskies, Hurricanes,
Tigers, and the like. Similarly, the name "Nodaks" is quite colorless
and symbolizes nothing. "Polar Bears," suggested once, is a bit far
fetched. But the name "Sioux" is about ideal. It would lend itself to
many colorful variations, is historically correct, and most important of
all immediately brings to mind the pioneer conqueror of the bison,
bears, and the elements," (Austin, 1930).
A writer identified as a
student in the same editorial wrote "Flickertail fist upon us the
anties of an obscure and timid little animal, for years we have been
pursued by a massive Bison in all Aggie publicity, ..., it wouldn't be a
bad idea to turn the tables and stage a buffalo hunt in the good old
Indian manner. By the way, how's that for a name, the "Sioux?"
Something Indian, or most anything that can come out on top in a bisonic
struggle, as we have been doing for the past forty years. Think of all
the symbolism that one could gain from an Indian name and figure.
Let's have a little action" (Dakota Student,1930).
A. U. fans
also felt that a new nickname was needed. The fan stated, "last Friday I
could not help but think how inadequately the name 'Flickertails'
applied to such a powerful and skilled eleven as Jack West put on the
field. Now, I and some of my friends have hit upon a name that we think
fits North Dakota U. representatives like a glove, and herewith, we
modestly offer the name of 'Sioux.' The strong Indian tribes that first
inhabited North Dakota were members of the Sioux nation. Man and beast
fell before their strength. There is nothing weak about that name,
such as 'Flickertail' might suggest" (Fan, 1930).
E. A. H. wrote
to the editor and said "Sioux," in the dictionary, "is an Indian of one
of the most important tribes of North America...'They are warlike, of
fine physique and haughty bearing. The native name of the Sioux is
Dakota.'" He went on by saying "What more assurance of classification
does the school need to select this designation? Besides being easily
rhymed for yells and songs, Sioux expresses a real sentiment. Take the
word of Webster and adopt Sioux!" (E. A. H.,1930). It didn't take long
before the momentum of a new nickname gained speed among students,
faculty, and alumni.
In the headline of the Dakota Student on
September 30, 1930, read Eleven U Faculty Members Favor Change in Pep
Name: Peitsch Only Total Dissenter in Canvass; Some Retain One Symbol.
Frank Webb (Alumni Secretary) said "I'm all for it!" (paragraph 2). C.
A. (Jack) West stated, "I think it is very colorful. This idea of
'Flickertails' suggests too much the idea of hunting our hole as soon as
we see the opponents. I'm all in favorite of it, if the alumni and
student body approves" (paragraph 3). C. L. (Buck) Starbeck echoed with
the coach "Big Sioux? I think it's a dandy idea" (paragraph 4). Other
faculty like W. G. Bek, E.K. Smiley, Helen J. Sullivan, Margaret Beede,
J. V. Breitwieser, John Howard, and Joseph Mader all approved "Sioux"
should be the new pep name.
On September 30, 1930, another column headline read, New Sioux Gang To Make Debut At Friday Game. The
paragraph read "It's for You, North Dakota Sioux'. That's the spirit
of the 'Tribe of the Sioux', North Dakota's new gang of rooters who will
make their debut at the Davis-Elkins game Friday night" (Dakota
Student). The second paragraph stated, "Doug Soule, a rooter king,
need no longer wave his arms madly and hear, but a spasmodic response
from the crowd. Those who are starting the movement for bigger and
better larynges, claim that the 'Tribe of the Sioux' will be all that
the name implies: a howling bunch of bucks on the warpath" (Dakota
"Sioux" Replaces "Flickertail" as Caption of University
Sports Teams reads the top of the Dakota Students on October 2, 1930.
In the first column, it read, "at convocation yesterday morning the
formal and official announcement was made that the athletic board of
control had conducted the rites of changing the name and had given their
sanction to the abolition of Flickertail and the enactment of the more
appropriate Sioux" (paragraph 2). According to the column, a minor
movement to change the pep name had failed over the years, but it was a
game between the University of North Dakota and St. Mary College that
ended in a score of 26 to 0 that lead the students in pursuing a new
name to coincide with their winning streak and to show their opponents
how aggressive and powerful their team could be (paragraph 4 and 5).
editorial title "Flickertails are Sioux Warriors Now." The author
further states that "as for Flickertail, it never was used in any school
cheers anyway. War whoops at the end of all cheers instead of just a
shout would help bring out the Sioux idea, but the superiority of Sioux
over Flickertails is unquestionable" (Dakota Student, October 3, 1930,
In October 14, 1930, a headline read, First Sioux Pow-wow
will Open Friday Night with Bonfire, Pep Rally. The writer started off
by saying "Gathering for the first general assembly of the "Sioux
Pow-wow", students Friday night will hit their cheering stride for
Homecoming in the dancing shadows of the annual homecoming bonfire...
and set the bonfire and pep-rally as the opening ceremony of the
pow-wow... and talks by student leaders will fill in intervals between
antics of the "Tribe of the Sioux" and the "Papooses" (paragraphs 1 and
2). Don McCarthy, manager of the University Armory said "One of the
greatest revelations of the modern terpsichore since the ancient red
blood pow-wow" (paragraph 4).
A small booklet was produced in
celebration of the homecoming. The cover had a cartoon image of a Sioux
warrior sitting on a horse looking with his hands over his forehead.
He is wearing a war bonnet and rifle across his lap. The text reads
First Annual Sioux Pow-wow, October 17-18, 1930. Inside the booklet, is
an announcement that states "... The name Sioux was recommended by the
leaders in the plan. The Board of Athletic Control on October 2
approved the recommendations of the students. The student homecoming
committees have asked that the schemes used in decorations and floats be
Indian in character and that the name homecoming be changed to Pow
Wow. Accordingly this booklet has been garbed to follow this scheme"
(Homecoming Booklet, 1930, p. 2). The following pages had greetings
from various university officials. They each had their official title
and their photographs pasted onto Indian characters along with Indian
names. The greetings were made by the following individuals: Thomas
Kane (University President) as Chief Tom-a-Hawk Kane, Fred J. Traynor
(Alumni President) as Chief Smell-Pooder Traynor, J. W. Wilerson
(Business Manager) as Chief "Wampum" Wilkerson, Frank J. Webb (Chair
Homecoming Committee) as Chief "Web-Foot" Webb, C. A. West (Director of
Athletics) as Chief "Bad Medicine" West, C. L. Starbeck (Assistant
Coach) as Chief "Sitting-Buck" Starbeck, Glen Jarrett (Captain of
Varsity Squad) as Chief "Fleetfoot" Jarrett, and Alvin Austin (Student
Chair of Homecoming) as "Boy Chief" Austin.
For the next 39
years, the University of North Dakota's athletic nickname was the Sioux.
In the 60s, the word "Fighting" was added to make it "Fighting Sioux."
During this time frame, many significant events took place in our
society like WWII, Korean War, and the Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs.
Board of Education to integrate public schools, Civil Rights Act, and
the Vietnam War. During the sixties, American Indian students from four
reservations in North Dakota participated in a Head Start Career
Development Program at the University of North Dakota (UND). The
program was designed for tribal members to take college level courses to
earn their Associate of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Development or a
four year Bachelor of Arts Degree (Dakota Student, paragraph 9). On
July 18, 1969 the American Indian students hosted a pow-wow ritual
celebration to show appreciation for the education they received from
the University. Bernard Standing Crow said "this is our way of giving
thanks for the educational opportunity and hospitality the university
has extended to the members of our tribe who are participating in the
Head Start Career Development Program on campus and the reservation"
(paragraph 3). Standing Crow continued with the program which motivated
many members of the tribe to gain further education (paragraph 10).
Cline (Summer Dakota Student Editor) wrote, "Over 300 filled the
Prairie State Ballroom to witness a Sioux Indian pow-wow which saw UND
President George W. Starcher adopted into the Sioux tribe and given the
name "The Yankton Chief" (July 25, 1969). Cline described that "Mayor
Loon spoke the ritual chants as the dancers performed... the Sioux tribe
displayed a short tribal history narrated by Chief Bernard Standing
Crow" (p.1). Cline continued with "The Sioux dancers have performed in
the United States and Europe and have planned a tour of Europe this
fall" (p.1). Standing Crow expressed that he would like to bring a
bigger delegation in hope to participate in the homecoming festivities
(p.1). According to Cline, delegation from the Standing Rock Indian
Reservation were Chief White Buffalo Man, a grandson of Chief Sitting
Bull, Roger Eagle, Darlene Spidell, Katey Loon, Dennis Jardon, Earl
Medicine Jr. Winnina Medecenlga, and Laverne Red Stone (p.1).
night of July 18, 1969, was full of events including demonstrations of
Sioux dancers, audiences participating in a 49er dance, and the UND
President getting his Sioux name. Dr. Richard Plaman (head of
Linguistics School at UND) also gained a Sioux name "llncute Agadi"
(translated into Bring Back the Roan Horse), and the right to use
"Fighting Sioux." Art Raymond wrote in the Dakota Student on July 21,
1969 a column titled 'Fighting Sioux' Get Uncpapa OK.' Raymond started
off by saying "the Fighting Sioux of the University of North Dakota now
come by their name moralistically right. Friday night a band of Standing
Rock (Uncpapa Sioux) formally gave UND teams the right to use the name
of "Fighting Sioux" for their athletic teams" (paragraph 1& 2).
Forty years from this night, people will make reference that a pipe
ceremony took place and it could not be undone. Art Raymond did not
mention any pipe ceremony or a sacred ritual to give the blessing.
to this point, the majority of the student body had been White
students, so the caricature of Sioux was based upon the perspective of
White students. The rituals of school spirit, game events, and
cheerleaders wearing war bonnets, and various social events to glorify
the Fighting Sioux have become the social norm at UND. The arrival of
American Indian students from various reservations to purse a college
degree changed the social environment that surrounds the Fighting
Sioux. In more recent years, you have tribal members questioning the
rituals and antics of the nickname. A member of University of North
Dakota Indian Association (UNDIA) said in protest of the nickname, "The
University can have the term the UND Sioux, that's just a White term for
the Dakota Indian, but I don't like the way they use that Indian chief
as a symbol of their University...hell, if this University had done one
damn thing for the Indian, it could be justified" (Garcia, 1970).
UNDIA member expressed his disapproval of the images of the chief and
Indians, stating "A lot of Indians don't even want to come to this big
university with the big war chief symbol, and a lot them aren't able to
come to this place, the home of the Fighting Sioux, a place that is
promoting and at the same time exploiting Indians and has become a minor
sort of show piece of the Indians, simply because of the use of the big
Indian symbol and because of the location of the university" (Garcia,
The UNDIA student protest ignited a lot of awareness on
campus in 1971. UNDIA helped establish an Indian Center for students,
Indian Studies Program, and an Indian student counselor position. They
also received assistance from other departments on campus in regards to
eliminating an Indian head emblem used by Food Services (tea and sugar
bags) and Waste Management (garbage trucks) (Garcia, 1971).
controversy ignited on Saturday, January 29, 1972, when a group of
American Indian people were on campus for George Whirlwind Soldier's
graduation from the MEDEX Program. At that time, the group identified
themselves as affiliated with the American Indian Movement(AIM). They
were driving on University Avenue and spotted an ice sculpture of a
female with a bare chest and a sign that read "Lik'em Sioux." The ice
sculpture was part of the King Kold Karnival (KKK) that was sponsored by
the Greek society. Sigma Nu was given until 1:00 pm to take down the
sculpture. Mr. Whirlwind Soldier was later arrested and the UND
President, Thomas J. Clifford, posted bail. Assault charges were later
dropped for Mr. Whirlwind Soldier for beating up three UND fraternity
members regarding the ice sculpture that he found derogatory.
decades later, another incident emerged that involved Sigma Alpha
Epsilon and Alpha Tau Omega Fraternities. The American Indian students
filed a complaint with the Dean of Students Office on October 28, 1992.
The complaint was that the homecoming float sponsored by two
fraternities were shouting racial slurs and derogatory actions (tomahawk
chop) directed at the UNDIA float. Some of the slurs were "Go Back to
the pow-wow and Go back to the reservation" (Huschka, 1992). Sarah
Jumping Eagle (President of UNDIA) said "it leads to the tolerance of
these offensive acts." And she continued "it is inevitable the school's
name be questioned, because it allows students to think racial slurs
against Native Americans are okay" (Huschka, 1992).
homecoming float incident resulted in the establishment of a student
organization called SOAR which stood for Student Organization Against
Racism. One of the organization's objectives was to dismantle the
school's nickname. They went to work by conducting a petition driven to
change UND's Fighting Sioux nickname (Huschka, 1992). The petition was
presented to President Kendall Baker and he reassured them that there
would be some kind of compromise in dealing with the incident and
getting rid of the nickname.
On January 12, 1993, President Baker
announced he would not drop the nickname, but instead he was going to
sponsor two educational forums where both sides could argue their
merits. Baker went on by saying "I think we should use (the forums) as
opportunities to explore some other important issues..." (Huschka,
February 19, 1993, the Athletics Department announced that
it would start using a geometric logo and phase out the Native American
caricature of a Blackhawk by the end of the year. Some of the reasons
for a new logo for the Fighting Sioux made marketing a bit difficult for
university athletics (Dakota Student).
In the fall of 1997,
Building Roads Into Diverse Group Empowering Students (B.R.I.D.G.E.S.), a
multicultural student organization, was formed to advocate changing the
mascot/logo/nickname of the Fighting Sioux (Dakota Student, October 7,
1997, p. 5). By 1999, B.R.I.D.G.E.S. gained widespread support from
organizations and tribes requesting UND to drop its nickname and logo,
the Fighting Sioux. The UND Student Senate passed a resolution to
discontinue use of "Fighting Sioux," the UND student body president at
that time vetoed the resolution, this student body president went on to
become Ralph Engelstad Arena manager, a similar resolution brought
before the N.D. House of Representatives received a "do not pass" vote,
the UND ROTC Battalion dropped the use of "Fighting Sioux," and nine
tribes called for the end of the name use: Spirit Lake Nation, Crow
Creek Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton/Wahpeton Sioux Tribe,
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux
Tribe, Three Affiliated Tribe, and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Despite
all of the tribal resolutions, a new Fighting Sioux logo was unveiled by
the artist, Ben Brien, a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. The
following year (2000), Ralph Engelstad made an offer that the University
couldn't refuse. He offered $100 million with 50% going to a new arena
and 50% to academics. Meanwhile, Engelstad became furious at a number
of UND faculty for speaking out against the nickname. Following that,
the arena ended up costing $105 million and no money was donated to
academics. There were other stipulations attached to this donation from
Engelstad: the building remains self-sufficient, the University still
does not own the arena, and the nickname remains The Fighting Sioux.
August 5, 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
announced a new policy that prohibits colleges and universities from
displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots,
nicknames, or imagery. UND appeal the policy and got denied. UND made
the argument that they have used the nickname in a very respectful way,
stating that the use of "Fighting Sioux" is to honor the Sioux tribes
and they don't have a mascot. The NCAA felt that UND was not complying
with the policy. April, 2006, UND was denied the final appeal that lead
to the next level of legal action.
On June 15, 2006, the North
Dakota State Board of Higher Education (NDSBHE) voted 8-0 to sue the
NCAA. By November 2006, the two sides faced off in Grand Forks, ND
Federal Court. It took almost one year for both parties to agree upon a
settlement. Later, it was revealed that the REA funded this legal
battle for UND.
October 26, 2007, UND was given three years to
gain approval from the two namesake tribes of the state, the Spirit Lake
Nation and the Standing Rock Tribe. Spirit Lake gave their blessings
on April 21, 2009 following a referendum vote promoted and influenced by
the REA, in which 67 percent voted yes. The Standing Rock Tribe stood
firm on their tribal resolution (February 11, 1998) requesting UND to
discontinue the use of Fighting Sioux. UND failed many attempts to gain
approval from Standing Rock by the deadline on April 18, 2010, NDSBHE
gave order to retire and phase out the Fighting Sioux by August of 2011.
the Spring of 2011, the North Dakota Legislative introduced three House
Bills (HB1208, 1257, and 1263) designed to retain the nickname through
the passage of a state law, on March11, 2011, HB 1257 was passed 28-15
despite a settlement with the NCAA. The following week, Governor Jack
Dalrymple signed it into law. The author and sponsor of the law, Al
Carlson, reportedly has a sign posted in his office that reads "Fighting
Sioux-it's the law." When this law was passed, UND was well into its
official transition period, which has since been halted. People
question who this law was passed for when every level of government at
UND was unified in opposition to it. There remains little doubt that
the wealth and political power of the REA was a major factor.