As the Lansing State Journal reports, the MSU Spartan hockey team is playing at UND this weekend. But there’s another story — the very serious problem of the UND arena and the nickname and logo of the UND sports teams — that LSJ and virtually everyone discussing the game is forgetting, ignoring, or even perhaps ignorant.
Here’s the lavish praise of the Ralph Engelstad Arena heaped by the LSJ:
Most of the Spartans, including coach Rick Comley, had never seen the $100 million Engelstad Arena until Friday’s late afternoon practice session. They all came away very impressed.”It’s an unreal facility. It’s something really special and I’m excited to play here,” senior center Chris Mueller said. “Driving (to the arena), there’s nothing around here, and then you come to the building … and it’s looks amazing just from the outside. Then you get in here, you seen the history of the program (with all the pictures and displays), you notice all the marble floors and then there’s bars at each end of the arena.
Here’s the history of the arena: Around 2000, Ralph Engelstad, an enormously wealthy Nevada casino operator and former UND goalie (who never graduated), offered something like $50 million to UND to build a new hockey arena and another $50 million to the school for academic programs. Engelstad had been notorious in Nevada (and fined by the Nevada gaming commission) for hosting Nazi-themed private parties. Not a great donor, but a big one. He is now deceased and a foundation looks after his strange “interests.”
At the same time, faculty and students and Grand Forks community members had campaigned to the President of UND to change the name and logo of the sport teams: “the Fighting Sioux.” UND at one time had been the Flickertails. It had become clear to that President that the university would suffer as a result of the continued use of this name and logo — frankly, because it offended so many Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people as well as other American Indians.
But Engelstad changed all that by writing a vicious letter to the State of North Dakota Board of Education threatening to shut down construction of the $50 million arena. So that was that. The offensive logo and nickname would stay. Moreover, to ensure that UND would be sorely pressed if they ever did decide to change, he ordered embedded into the facility in all nooks and crannies the logo of the “Fighting Sioux,” ensuring that any change would require a complete overhaul of the arena. A massive F.S. logo fronts the building, reminding everyone of Engelstad’s impact on this small community.
Spartan hockey players and coaches were very impressed by the building, but when they play their game there, there will likely be no (or very, very few) American Indian people in attendance to watch the “Fighting Sioux.” American Indians who show up often get jeered — or suffer the humiliation of “microaggressions,” where good natured (and bad natured) F.S. fans ask questions like, “What are you doing here?” Being an American Indian in a building like Engelstad Arena — and its two massive bars — full of drunken hockey fans who tend to dislike or even actively detest American Indian people (especially Indian students) is a deeply demoralizing and even horrifying experience.
UND students and faculty who have argued in favor of the name and logo change often (but not always) are met with hostility and implied threats of retaliation. There are around 400 American Indian students enrolled at UND and most of these students are not Lakota, Dakota, or Nakota — or are not hockey fans — and yet they suffer through the passive-aggressive questions from UND hockey fans who are always trying to justify the name and logo in some disingenuous way. The most repeated “justification” is that the name and logo “honor” American Indians. But these students don’t want to be bothered with this question about being “honored” by nearly-all-white hockey players, coaches, fans, and boosters — they want an education. Being questioned about their feelings virtually every day by strangers helps to create a very unwelcome environment for many of these students.
So when Spartan fans and players are awed by this hideous arena, they should at least be aware of the dirty underbelly of its history.
Every year around Columbus Day, there is a march in favor of the change. Here’s the coverage from Indianz.com.
As has been widely reported, UND sued the NCAA to prevent it from enforcing its decision to punish UND for the continued use of the name and logo. This lawsuit is ongoing.
Here are some materials about this very serious issue:
UND BRIDGES: “A Short History of the Fighting Sioux Name”
Robert Jensen: “What the Fighting Sioux Tells Us About Whites”
Sports Law Blog commentary (not much here)
Blue Corn Comics Commentary (with some amazing and terrible images depicting the sexualization of the Fighting Sioux logo.
Required reading: LaRocque, Angela. 2004. “Psychological Distress between American Indian and Majority Culture College Students Regarding the Use of the Fighting Sioux Nickname and Logo.” Ph.D. dissertation, Dept. of Psychology, University of North Dakota.