Sioux suit

The fight over the University of North Dakota “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo has always been just a little bit different from most battles over Native American sports team logos and nicknames.

Today the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes sued the NCAA, which has pressured UND to drop its mascot and name or face sanctions. The tribes say the name and mascot have been honorably used for more than 80 years, according to the Grand Forks Herald.


If “Fighting Sioux” is a derogatory term in the NCAA’s eyes, he asked how the association can support the University of Illinois’ use of “Fighting Illini” or Florida State University’s use of the name “Seminoles” and a mascot “dressed in Native American attire who rides into the FSU stadium on a horse and throws a flaming spear before every home football game.”

The lawsuit — which seeks damages of more than $10 million — asks that the NCAA policy against the use of Native American names and imagery “be stricken as unconstitutional and ‘hostile and abusive,’ … a violation of copyright and trademark laws” and a violation of Indian civil rights and religious freedom.

It also asks that the NCAA be required to adopt policies to promote Native American athletes, including women.

Other schools have been down this road, of course. In Illinois, Chief Illiniwek was retired in 2007.

The Florida State Seminoles were on the original NCAA list of schools required to change their names and logos. But the school was allowed to keep both because of “the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.”

  • Kevin

    Wow it was weird to watch that video (of Chief Illiniwek). As a kid I was a huge Illinois fan, and loved the Chief. If I had been 20 in 2007, I would have been crying too. But as an adult, living in the bigger Twin Cities, I am still a fan of the sports teams, but I’m relieved they’ve retired the Chief.

    For what it’s worth, my understanding as to ofiicially why the Illini are allowed to keep their name, but the Sioux are not is as follows: the NCAA decided that the name Illini is less evocative of Native Americans than the name Sioux. I suspect it has more to do with the fact that there is much stronger opposition from the Sioux than from any current people who identify themselves as “Illini”.

  • David G

    There should be one clarification: Standing Rock, as a whole, is not involved in the suit, just a single member of the Standing Rock tribe.

    The reason the NCAA denied UND’s request to continue use of the Sioux mascot is because Standing Rock refused to approve it, as required in the original settlement between UND and the NCAA.

    As for the suit, how can the mascot policy of the NCAA , a private membership organization, be declared “unconstitutional?” If UND were really insistent on continuing use of the mascot, it can waive membership in the NCAA and do so.

    Maybe the NAIA, will let them keep it.

  • David G

    Also got to add: since UND is a state, rather than a tribal school, I’m at a loss to understand how they even assert standing, let alone the claims named in the suit.

  • http://www.nickcolemanmn.com Nick Coleman

    This story misrepresents significantly the identities of the plaintiffs in this “lawsuit,” which seems just another in a long series of mischievous manipulations. The Devils Lake tribe has long been useful to UND alums who have fought to keep the “Fighting Sioux” nickname long past the point any reasonable person would do so. But the Standing Rock tribe is NOT part of any such lawsuit. Some individual members of the tribe may be involved, but the tribe itself — as a sovereign entity — has stood strongly against the nickname. It still does.

  • John O.

    @David G: The “public” connection is the schools’ participation in various federal student loan, grant and/or scholarship programs. Additionally, most universities have federal contracts with various agencies for research, etc.

    All of those federal agreements will contain language about adherence to a laundry list of laws.

    In today’s world, I am not certain that a college or university would be viable for long without participation in federal student financial aid programs or research grants.

  • David G

    John, but how does THAT connection translate to a standing for a third party to dictate the school’s mascot?