Indianz.com reported today that UND and the NCAA are in the midst of discussing a settlement whereby UND would have three years to find a Sioux nation that is willing to extend official support to the Fighting Sioux name and logo or else they will retire it.
I’ve been troubled from the beginning by the NCAA’s pattern of allowing universities to find a tribe to “ratify” their Indian names, mascots, and logos. Utah, Central Michigan, and (most famously) Florida State come to mind. On one hand, it’s an expression of sovereignty for the tribes to come to their own conclusion as to whether they want to take this action — and I support that discussion that tribes undertake. But on the other, it is a denigration of the sovereignty of the other tribes that would reject a university’s name and logo (for example, the Oklahoma Seminoles and the other Chippewa tribes in Michigan and elsewhere). Now, as it had been doing, UND will lobby, cajole, and probably bribe (in a legal way, one hopes) the North Dakota Sioux nations for authority. And they might get it — who knows? But if one breaks down and “ratifies” the Fighting Sioux, what about the other nations?
My real point in raising this question is to ask — what is the price of ratification? We think the Florida Seminole nation (there was another that did not) that “ratified” FSU’s use of the Seminole name did so for political purposes, perhaps related to gaming compacts. But there, Gov. Jeb Bush (who likely was in gaming compact negotiations with the tribe) made big political hay over the NCAA’s actions as to FSU and other schools on the question of their use of Indian names, logos, and mascots. It made some sense (I suppose) to placate Jeb Bush at that time. But what does UND have to offer the Sioux nations? Not gaming, certainly. Full tuition and fees and living costs to all Sioux Indians? Contract bidding preferences to Sioux nation business entities? UND extension schools on reservations? I don’t really know.
UND could turn the next three years (assuming the settlement goes through) into a brutal campaign of North Dakota Sioux nation against Sioux nation against Sioux nation. What if UND made clear that the the first Sioux nation to “ratify” the Fighting Sioux name and logo would get all the benefits, creating a race to the bottom (assuming there were any competitors)?
Or maybe UND compromises and offers to share the trademark and other property rights associated with the Fighting Sioux name and logo with the Sioux nations (in N.D. and in S.D., Minn., and Mont.). Then the Sioux nations would have a say in how the name and logo are used — and, likely, a say in whether or not to continue them at all. Or what if UND offered to make their name more politically correct, for example, changing the name to the Lakota?
I’m not supporting any of these ideas (and I really hope they don’t go anywhere, because the use of Indian names and logos should just go away), but I’m trying to demonstrate how this settlement could become a major problem for the Indian nations in question. Remember — no Indian nation is a party to these negotiations. As is almost always the case, the interests of Indian people will be decided according to the whims of non-Indians.