The History of the Fighting Sioux by Franklin Sage

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 law.

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 to Bison?

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
first 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 Student).

"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).

Another 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, pg. 2).

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).

Richard 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).

The 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.

Up 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).

Another 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, 1970).

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).

A 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.

Two 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).

The 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, 1993).

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.

On 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.

In 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.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Erich Longie published on March 15, 2012 6:22 AM.

Nickname committee doesn't speak for Sioux was the previous entry in this blog.

Editorial: Request to Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D to End Feud is the next entry in this blog.

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