Is ‘Roughriders’ right for UND nickname?

Theodore Roosevelt, the Roughrider. North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame

The Grand Forks Herald is taking a stand for consideration of “Roughriders” as a new nickname for the University of North Dakota.

It’s been a controversy since Roughriders made the final list of nickname possibilities. The name has long been linked to former President Theodore Roosevelt, an officer in the old Roughriders cavalry unit who loved North Dakota but had little love for its native people.

“Doesn’t this highly-paid consultant know that Roosevelt was a self-admitted white supremacist?” a letter-writer in the Jamestown Sun protested last week. “Just look at his writings to see glaring examples such as, ‘I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian.'”

But in an editorial today, the newspaper is urging a committee that meets this week to keep Roughriders as one of the names being considered.

It’s true that Roosevelt showed unvarnished prejudice toward “savages,” as he termed American Indians. It’s also true that many American Indian tribes killed women and children and tortured prisoners with abandon — and not only during their wars with the shockingly brutal U.S. Army, but also across intertribal conflicts of centuries before.

So, does that mean the sandblasters should move on from Mt. Rushmore and deface the great Black Hills sculpture of Crazy Horse, too?

Of course not. It simply means that we of today must make some allowance for the times — for the times in which people lived, and the cultures in which they were raised.

Mind you, this doesn’t call for the forgiveness of all sins. There are historical crimes that participants knew or should have known were wrong at the time. The Holocaust is one.

But the past was a violent and prejudiced place. And we moderns must take that into consideration, lest we be left without any heroes or figures of admiration at all.

When the seven finalist nicknames were released last month, “Roughriders” was the most popular.