April 2011 Archives

By Dr. Erich Longie

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. -- Is the Fighting Sioux moniker cursed? Is it the reason why the UND men's hockey team hasn't won a national title in their past six trips to the Frozen Four?

And has the curse reached out and affected others who have dealt with the controversial name?

The Curse of the Bambino was said to have begun after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth, aka "the Bambino," to the Yankees in the off-season of 1919-20.

Before that point, the Red Sox had been one of the most successful professional baseball franchises, winning the first World Series and amassing five World Series titles thereafter.

After the sale, they went without a title for decades, while the previously lackluster Yankees became one of the most successful franchises in professional sports.

Similarly, the Fighting Sioux Curse began in 2001, when the Ralph Engelstad Arena was built and REA officials refused to let protesters against the nickname step onto arena property.

Before 2001, the UND hockey team won national championships in more than half of the past 13 Frozen Four tournaments in which they'd competed. Since 2001, Sioux men's hockey teams have competed in six Frozen Four tournaments and won no national championships.

Unfortunately, the Fighting Sioux Curse is not restricted to the UND men's hockey team. In 2007, the State Board of Higher Education entered into a three-year agreement with the NCAA. The curse then spread to the reservations of North Dakota (Standing Rock and Spirit Lake, primarily).

And we tribal members of these two reservations began to argue with each other and with anyone who disagreed with us.

The curse then moved to the Capitol in Bismarck. A recent Bismarck Tribune story, "Assessing the logo fallout on Dalrymple and Wayne Stenehjem," was anything but flattering about the state's two top officials.

Instead of portraying them as strong leaders in dealing with the constitutionality of HB1263, the story offered the sense that Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem were worried more about their political futures than about making honest and courageous decisions.

Curses usually treat those individuals who think they can outsmart or overcome the curse more severely than those who accept the curse. The first who tried to out think this curse was UND men's hockey coach Dave Hakstol.

Although it was against university policy, Hakstol helped organize a massive email campaign to influence the North Dakota Senate.

Alas, his team -- which was thought to be the best in a long time and certainly the best of the other three teams in the Frozen Four -- couldn't escape the curse and was defeated quite handily in its first match.

"They seem to be playing under water" was one comment used to describe the team's effort.

The second person who has learned that outwitting a curse is not easy was Rep. Al Carlson, majority leader of the North Dakota House. Getting the Fighting Sioux nickname passed into state law was to be Al's defining moment, perhaps propelling him into either the governor's office or the U.S. Congress. Instead, it is turning out to be his worst nightmare now that NCAA refused to meet with state officials.

The look on his face when he was told that NCAA was not going to show up at the meeting must have been priceless. It seems the words on the T-shirt that is hanging in his office -- "Fighting Sioux: It's the law" -- may be premature. The final wording may be "NCAA: Truth is not dictated by N.D. state law."

Do I believe in the curse? No, at least not in the way non-Indians believe in curses. I do believe in our Dakota spirituality, in which we believe lying is evil and will harm everyone associated with the lie if it is allowed to continue.

The use of the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname is based on a huge falsehood that is called honoring. This falsehood is the primary reason why the use of Fighting Sioux always will be cursed.

It never was intended to honor. It was intended to intensify rivalries, conjure up the "good old days" of cowboys and Indians and sell tickets.

Letter to NCAA

Dr. Bernard Franklin (Executive Vice President)
The National Collegiate Athletic Association
700 W. Washington Street
P.O. Box 6222
Indianapolis, Indiana 46206-6222

April 11, 2011

Dear Dr. Franklin:

I am writing this letter on behalf of the 330+ Spirit Lake Oyate tribal members who voted against our tribe endorsing the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo when the issue was put before the tribe as a reservation-wide referendum.  Although we lost the referendum, we are hoping to overturn it. Let me add if another referendum were held today, I believe the results would be much closer, maybe even concluding in our favor.

Because our tribe does allow referendums, we have since collected 330 signatures - far more than is needed to force another election on the issue.  However, this course of action is something we hope we don't have to pursue due to the dissention throughout the community another referendum will likely cause, as well as the expense it would incur on our already stretched tribal budget.

I earned and received three degrees from UND over the course of 20 years. During this time, I participated in many, many discussions with non-Indians concerning the logo. All the discussions were of a negative nature. The logo supporters did not bother to hide their dislike and contempt for me because I spoke out against the logo. They would commonly respond that I receive monthly checks from the government, that my education was free, and that I was blaming them for what their ancestors did. When this discussion took place in the classroom, it was usually at the beginning of the semester. As for the discussion outside of the classroom, when I failed to agree with pro-nickname/logo supporters' reasons for why they believed the logo was respectful toward Indians, I had to endure many forms of disrespect from my fellow students.  This disrespect was demonstrated via innuendos, for example, when assignments required students to work in groups, no one wanted to partner with me when the situation called for it.  Further, when placed in a group, I was ignored by my classmates when trying to contribute and participate. So I would respond with anger and contempt toward them. They soon learned to leave me alone - until the next semester and I would have to go through the whole thing again.

I witnessed and I was on the receiving end of many acts of disrespect toward Indians that were hidden or disguised through the use of the logo when I was at UND. (1) A lot of it was sneaky and underhanded. Most commonly, logo supporters would belittle Indians and reservations when I (we) was (were) in the vicinity. (2) As a result of a previously broken back, I walk with a severe limp. On one occasion while I was a student, I had parked my car at the administration building. My car had a handicap permit clearly displayed; however, when I came out, there was a parking violation/ticket on my windshield for illegally parking in a handicap spot. No big deal - right? When I took the ticket to the UND Parking Office, the employee who talked with me saw me walk in. Amazingly, after observing me walk and looking at my handicap permit, she still refused to remove the citation. However, I was just as stubborn. After about 10 minutes of discussion, she finally confessed that she had received a call from three young men who had observed me get out of my vehicle and run into the building. "Lady, I haven't run in close to 10 years," I told her.  Eventually, but reluctantly, she realized she was wrong and removed the citation but I reported her anyway. I received a long, two-page letter of apology from the director of the Parking Office. But the damage was done. I was mistreated, disrespected, not trusted, and humiliated all because of a logo.  It's also worth noting that the UND Parking Office has numerous Fighting Sioux logos/signage displayed, a strong indication of the office-wide support for a nickname and logo that is offensive to many, certainly me.

I persevered.  I was not going to let the hard-core logo supporters run me out of UND. However, I saw many other Indian students who could not stand up to the enormous negative pressure created by the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. They quit and went back to whatever reservation they were from. Every time an Indian student would quit because of the emotionally controversial logo, I would become angrier, which made me more determined than ever to fight against the nickname and logo.

Many tribal members who are pro-logo supporters have never stepped one foot in a UND classroom, they have never had to put up with racism spawned by the logo day in and day out, and they have not been ignored by fellow classmates when trying to work with them as a group like I have. Yet, they proclaim to be experts on how the logo honors us. On the other hand, there are about 20 UND graduates who are from Spirit Lake and at least 90% are against the logo due to how they were treated while at UND.

The racism spawned by the logo continues to affect me to this day. I play pool in GF every Friday night and often stop at the restaurant located on the outskirts of Grand Forks when finished playing pool. I remember vividly the first time I stopped there during a home hockey game. When I walked in, almost every eye turned to look at me. Most of the people were wearing Fighting Sioux garb of some kind. The hate I felt in their gaze was palpable. Man, I thought as I shook my head, these people are all wearing Fighting Sioux garb - yet when they see a real "Sioux" Indian, they have nothing to say; they only have hate toward him (me). I went in and sat down anyway. No one person in the room smiled or said "hi" to me. Instead, they acted as if I had no right to be there with them on their Fighting Sioux night.

Please do not change your position on the use of Native American imagery in the NCAA.



Erich Longie, Ed.D
President Spirit Lake Consulting

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