We must stand against Indian stereotypes

The University has failed to wholeheartedly join the mounting opposition to the use of American Indian names, mascots, and logos by sports teams. At the April meeting of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, President Roy Saigo of St. Cloud State University submitted a resolution stating, “We do not condone the use of Native American logos and nicknames, and we request that opposing teams not wear uniforms that reflect these logos and names.”

The University of North Dakota, with its team name “Fighting Sioux” and Indian-head logo, is the only member of the WCHA that has refused to abandon the racist practice of using Indian team names and logos.

The presidents of the member universities of the WCHA are responsible for the policies adopted by the association (as is also the case with
the NCAA). President Saigo has experienced the devastating effects of racism

firsthand: As a child he and his family were interned during World War II merely for being Japanese-American. This is one of the reasons why he is responsive to issues of racism.

Morris Kurtz, the SCSU athletic director who represented President Saigo at the meeting, told me the SCSU resolution was rejected by a vote of 9 to 1, the University of Minnesota voting with the majority. He related that the principal justification advanced for the rejection was the claim the UND team name and logo are solely the responsibility of the UND administration.

It has already been established, however, the

matter is not exclusively an internal affair of the University of North Dakota. The UND president, Charles Kupchella, appointed a committee last December to advise him on the issue of the Fighting Sioux name and logo.

At that time, Las Vegas casino operator Ralph Engelstad (a UND alumnus once fined $1.5 million by the Nevada gaming commission for holding Hitler birthday parties at his casino) had already put some $37 million into a hockey arena he was supposedly constructing as part of a $100 million gift to UND. Upon learning of Kupchella’s action, Engelstad threatened to stop the construction if the UND team name was changed. The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education immediately intervened and mandated that no name change be considered.

All the major Sioux tribes in North Dakota have demanded their name not be appropriated by UND. In particular, they point out that emphasis on qualities related to hostility, aggression, and war by sports teams distorts the positive cultural and spiritual traditions of their people. These traditions include internal nonviolence, equal rights for women and communal sharing of productive resources. These traditions are also characterized by the absence of abuse of women and children and a lack of discrimination regarding sexual orientation.

Far from being a matter “internal” to UND or even the state of North Dakota, team names and logos have pervasive effects. Away and at home, the team name and logo inspire UND fans to wear racist T-shirts and shout war whoops. Several of these fans came to a recent football game between UND and the Bisons of North Dakota State University sporting T-shirts depicting an American Indian performing anal sex on a bison over the slogan, “Buck the Bisons Under.”

In a statement issued April 13, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights calls for “an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools.” SCSU President Saigo will be attending the Jan. 13 meeting of the NCAA to personally introduce a resolution similar to the one he submitted to the WCHA.

The University adopted in 1993 a policy not to play teams using Indian team names, logos and mascots except for conference games. But most of the principal sporting events are held within the framework of conference games, so we continue to play teams from both University of Illinois and University of North Dakota because of the lucrative financial advantages of such matches.

President Yudof should abandon the “gentlemen’s agreement” that allows UND, the University of Illinois and Florida State University to continue to reap financial gain from racist wealthy alumni and from licensing racist team names and logos.

But financial arrangements so dominate University policy that, even in the case of a non-conference match, the University has violated its own code. In one instance when a scheduled opponent dissolved its team, because no other team was available, the University filled the vacancy with a Louisiana team – even though the team had not yet dropped their Indian name.

In the case of UND, the gift of a $50 million arena and an additional $50 million for education promised by Engelstad never quite materialized. The arena ended up absorbing the full $100 million with nothing left for education. Engelstad actually did not even give them the arena, but leases it to UND for $1 a year which allows him to continue applying pressure to prevent a team name change.

The North Central Association of Faculty and Students was formed to put an end to the racist use of team names, mascots and logos in our region. The NCAFS was consolidated by several hundred faculty and students at conferences this year (at SCSU in March and UND in October). The NCAFS supports the adoption of policies by the WCHA and NCAA that will lead to the elimination of these racist practices. The NCAFS will also encourage faculty, students, staff and community supporters to make it clear teams with racist names, mascots and logos are not welcome on our campuses.

A discussion regarding what steps can be taken to convince President Yudof to support the resolution discouraging the use of American Indian team names, logos, and mascots will be held tomorrow Dec. 4, at 3:30 p.m., Scott Hall Rm. #105. Call 624-5706 for further information.


Erwin Marquit is Professor Emeritus of Physics.
He welcomes comments and inquiries at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to
[email protected]