Fate of UND's controversial Fighting Sioux nickname may be determined by referendum

It's a very fetching logo -- but is it racist?
It's a very fetching logo -- but is it racist?

The people of North Dakota may get a chance to decide whether the University of North Dakota continues to use the Fighting Sioux nickname or not.

Last night, supporters of the nickname delivered a petition with about 17,000 signatures to the NoDak secretary of state. State law says that if 13,452 of the signatures are legit, a statewide referendum will decide the fate of the nickname this June.

As you've probably heard, opponents of the Fighting Sioux nickname claim it's offensive and perpetuates negative stereotypes about Native Americans. Supporters believe... well, presumably something about tradition, and I'll be damned if that isn't a cool looking logo too.

The controversy began in 1999, when a bill was introduced in the NoDak House to abolish the Fighting Sioux nickname. It didn't go anywhere, and two years later wealthy alumnus Ralph Engelstad donated $100 million to the school for a new arena on the condition UND remain the Fighting Sioux. (The arena named after Engelstad features the Fighting Sioux logo in 2,400 places in an effort to sabotage any future effort to change the nickname.)

In 2005, the NCAA sanctioned schools with tribal logos and/or nicknames, including UND, that were deemed to be "hostile and abusive." The NCAA later agreed to compromise and allow UND to keep the nickname if it could secure the blessing of two large North Dakota Native American tribes -- but so far, only one of the two has consented.

With the NoDak legislative and executive branch seemingly unable to resolve the controversy on its own, a petition drive recently got off the ground with the idea of taking the issue directly to state voters. That drive concluded with the delivery of roughly 17,000 signatures last night.

Today, school administrators announced that they will continue to use the Fighting Sioux nickname pending the petition verification and possible statewide referendum.

There may be consequences for UND if voters decide to keep the 80-year-old nickname -- The Wall Street Journal reported last November that our very own University of Minnesota is among the schools that have threatened to stop competing against UND unless the nickname is changed.

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