U policy on UND mascot stands

The committee chairman said the media has been covering a nonstory about revisiting the policy.

Ahnalese Rushmann

Perhaps Gopher hockey fans, players and coaches should be thankful they’re still able to play one of their biggest rivals.

The University of North Dakota, ranked first in the nation by many national polls, is in its last year of Division II action before a move to Division I.

However, amid the transition, some people are still concerned by the issues surrounding UND’s Fighting Sioux team name.

In 2006, the University’s Advisory Committee on Athletics decided to uphold a 2002 policy discouraging teams from scheduling home games against schools with American Indian mascots, such as UND.

As it stands, the University still faces UND in hockey.

Despite recent media reports focusing on the committee’s decision to not review the policy again, Doug Hartmann, committee chairman, said some media outlets have been covering a nonstory.

“There’s nothing that happened that would make us change our policy,” he said.

Hartmann said North Dakotans’ concern with the issue shows how much they care.

“It tells you just how passionate, invested and desperate the folks in North Dakota are to make something change,” he said.

Joseph Marks, higher-education reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, said issues involving the Fighting Sioux nickname tend to attract the attention of many North Dakotans.

“This is an issue that could’ve turned into a discussion but fizzled instead,” he said.

In October 2006, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem filed a lawsuit on behalf of UND against the NCAA concerning restrictions on the school’s use of its Fighting Sioux nickname and mascot in postseason play.

The two parties met in Grand Forks County Court earlier this week for a pretrial conference. A trial is scheduled for December.

Mark Rotenberg, University general counsel, said the University was subpoenaed and provided documents relating to its policy, but that’s the extent of the school’s involvement in the case.

“The lawsuit does not involve the U of M as a party,” he said.

Rotenberg said there’s a possibility the court ruling may prompt the University to reconsider its standing policy.

“The outcome of the UND-NCAA litigation will be carefully reviewed by our office,” he said.

Rotenberg said the University would look at the future ruling out of respect for NCAA nondiscrimination policies.

“There are circumstances that might arise regarding certain teams or schedules,” he said, “where the athletic director might wish to make an exception.”

Carol Miller, Morse Alumni Distinguished Professor of Teaching in American and American Indian Studies, said she was proud of the University for speaking up about the American Indian mascot issue, but thinks there’s an ethical loophole in the school’s decision.

“Consistency would be a better strategy,” she said of the decision to allow the hockey teams to compete against each other.

Hartmann said in terms of principles, the policy is not consistent, but the University is contractually bound with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association conference, something that predates the policy.

“It’s a result of the pre-existing relationship that the University had with the WCHA,” he said.

Miller said the Fighting Sioux image is a hurtful appropriation of an identity for the purposes of non-native people.

“That mascot-logo trivializes American Indian history in the Dakotas,” Miller said. “You really have to step back and think about what it means on a deeper level.”

She said despite all the controversy, it’s up to UND to make its own decisions regarding the logo.

“It’s not our responsibility to solve their problem,” Miller said.

Zachary Larson, a UND junior and hockey season-ticket holder, said he’s glad the two teams still compete and thinks the controversy may add to the rivalry.

“Put aside all the turmoil against the nicknames and stuff like that, you see sportsmanship at its finest,” he said.

Larson said he thought the University should reconsider its policy, in fairness to its athletes.

If the hockey teams are still the only teams allowed to compete against each other in the future, it would still be exciting, he said.

“There would still be a rivalry between the two schools,” Larson said.

UND’s hockey team competes at home at Ralph Engelstad Arena, which cost $104 million to build.

The venue, which opened in 2001, seats more than 11,000 people for hockey games and bears more than 2,200 Fighting Sioux logos.