Will Tribes Trade Sovereignty for UND's Nickname?

I am a vocal opponent of UND's exploitative and negative depiction of the Sioux people by use of its offensive Sioux logo and nickname.  So, it was with great dismay that I viewed the October 1st news conference in which officials discussed the issue of the Sioux logo.

During the event, a statement by Richie Smith, president of the State Board of Higher Education, caught my attention.

A reporter asked Smith this question:

"You talked earlier about the perpetual use of a resolution from Spirit Lake.  It sounded like you guys have decided that that resolution in and of itself is not adequate.  You wanted a more binding agreement?"

Smith answered:

"Right, that's correct.  A resolution, like any resolution from a sovereign nation such as Standing Rock or Spirit Lake, can be changed if the tribal council changes or if they change their mind, and so we could be back here within a year or six months or whatever with the same issue.

"And on the board, we felt we need at least a 30-year binding commitment that probably will include a waiver of sovereign immunity, and federal jurisdiction, and a binding document [so] that ... the university knows that it has the commitment for 30 years."

"We won!" I thought.

There is no way any self-respecting tribal official or tribal member will give up our sovereignty for a college athletic team's nickname.  To American Indians, sovereignty is sacred.

In my view, tribal nations never will give up their sovereignty, even at gunpoint.

Here's one reason why:

Proposals to force tribes into waivers of their sovereign immunity would put Indian tribal governments at risk.  Tribal councils and tribal courts would be subject to immense lawsuits, whether they acted or failed to act.

No government could long operate under such a waiver of sovereign immunity.

By waiving our sovereign immunity for the nickname, all the gains we made in the past 50 years would be in jeopardy.  Our tribal nations, as they are known today, no longer would exist.

We no longer would be free from unwanted influence from state and city governments.  Huge companies could set up businesses on our lands at will.  Unscrupulous outsiders, who are not above paying tribal members to promote their cause, would be able influence our tribal government.

Our agreement to run our casino independent from state influence would be weakened.

The harm that would be done by waiving our sovereign immunity goes on and on.

So, Herald readers would think the logo issue would be dead, right?

But I am forced to reflect upon how easy it was for an outside entity to come in and recruit tribal members to push for a referendum.  I observed how zealously these individuals lobbied in favor of the logo and how successful they were.

Thinking about our tribal council's eagerness to grant perpetual use of the nickname to UND, I began to realize that even our sovereign status is not immune from this nickname madness.

And my elation quickly turned to concern.

The Dakota, Lakota and Nakota tribes, commonly known as the Sioux, once controlled parts of Minnesota, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.  But the arrival of the Europeans soon forced the tribes onto small tracts of land called reservations.

There were many settlers who did not want Indians to own any land at all.  If they had had their way, our ancestors would not have been given even reservations to live on.  They would have been forced into assimilation or exterminated.

Fortunately, we had leaders -- Little Crow, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, among others. These leaders and their warriors, who courageously fought and gave their lives, forced the government to set aside reservations and to concede our sovereign status.

The blood of our ancestors paid for the sovereign status we enjoy today.


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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Erich Longie published on October 6, 2009 7:12 AM.

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