DENVER – All four colleges brought fans from all over the country to watch the best hockey teams in the country. But only one brought with it a mascot deemed officially “hostile and abusive” by the NCAA.
“We are nothing more than mascot images (to them). We are not human beings,” said Franky Jackson, a former North Dakota resident and current member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Sioux tribe.
The University of North Dakota athletic teams have been called the “Fighting Sioux” since the 1930s. Over the years, the logo has evolved but remained a feather-wearing, male warrior, which Jackson says is insulting.
“It belittles Native Americans,” said Jackson. “The high cheekbones, the protruding nose.”
Kade Ferris is a Native American who graduated from UND. He says the culture at the Grand Forks campus embraces racial epithets.
“It’s people who don’t see the insult, the problem,” said Ferris, member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. “To have to endure these images and this idea that somehow you’re less.”
However, the predominantly white fan-base sees it differently. Tim O’Keefe is the chief executive officer of the University of North Dakota Alumni Foundation. O’Keefe says the Fighting Sioux tradition is a strong one.
“The Fighting Sioux are symbolic of the strength in our state,” said O’Keefe. “I played hockey at the University of North Dakota. I wore the jersey. I look at it with great pride.”
The NCAA looked at it as offensive. Administrators with the college league ordered UND to change its logo or be subject to sanctions. The Fighting Sioux then decided to fight and sue the NCAA to keep its name and logo.
In January, a judge asked them to settle the matter out of court. The university is now meeting with tribal leaders in North Dakota and they now have until 2010 to come up with a resolution.
O’Keefe says in the meantime the school will continue to expand its services to Native American students.
“We have 31 programs that are dedicated to our American Indian constituency,” said O’Keefe. “We graduate one of every five American Indian doctors in the country.”
Jackson still says the name and logo must be changed.
“If you want to address the racial tension that does exist, not only in the university, but in North Dakota, this is a great step towards that,” said Jackson.
O’Keefe says a name change would be difficult.
“Would it be hard to come up with another name? Well, this is one of the most popular names in the country,” said O’Keefe. “It’s one of the most popular logos in the country, so certainly that would be a challenge.”
Despite the continuing legal processes, Jackson says he doesn’t believe the name will be changed.
“Until they show me that the name is gonna be changed, I think it’s just gonna be business as usual,” said Jackson.
The University of North Dakota played against Boston College on Thursday. The other two teams at the Frozen Four are Michigan and Notre Dame. The National Champion will be crowned on Saturday.