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Native American Students File Suit to Prevent Use of Fighting Sioux

Six Native American students are suing North Dakota officials over civil rights violations involving the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname at the University of North Dakota.
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Yesterday a group of six Native American University of North Dakota (UND) students filed a lawsuit in federal court requesting the university to discontinue the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname by August 15.

The complaint claims that the nickname violates the students’ civil rights and that it “has had and continues to have a discriminatory and profoundly negative impact on plaintiffs.”

The action names North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, the State of North Dakota, the state’s Board of Higher Education and UND as defendants. They were all named because of their involvement with the passage of legislature mandating the use of the nickname continue.

The complaint alleges that the legislation—effective August 1—does three things:

1.) violates the North Dakota constitution, which says the power to make decisions such as those belongs to the State Board of Higher Education, not the legislature;

2.) conflicts a court-ordered settlement saying the name be changed, which was agreed up on by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the state and the State Board of Higher Education;

3.) violates the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and North Dakota’s constitution.

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The complaint also details the “decades old” debate over the Fighting Sioux nickname. “The present controversy began six years ago, when the NCAA adopted a policy that prohibited the use or display of Native American nicknames or logos during championship events,” the complaint states. “The NCAA’s policy was adopted after extensive studies showed that such nicknames and logos are disruptive to the learning environment and are harmful to Native Americans.”

The university and the board sued NCAA in 2006, as a result the NCAA said the school could continue using the name after November 30, 2010 as long as it got permission from the Spirit Lake Tribe and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. But if the school could not get that approval, it had until August 15, 2011 to adopt a new nickname and logo. The Spirit Lake Tribe gave its approval in April 2009, but Standing Rock has not yet voted on the issue.

The North Dakota legislature then passed a law this spring mandating that the school keep the nickname.

But the nickname battle has already done damage, especially to Native American students at UND, including the plaintiffs. The suit notes how they have been subjected to “overt hostility.”

“This includes incidents such as the vandalism of a tipi erected outside the student union by a Native American group, the vandalism of the American Indian Student Services building, the chanting of racist slurs at Native Americans, and the posting of racist notes on public bulletin boards.”

One of the notes told Native American students they should: “Go back to the res, or work @ the Casino, PRAIRE [sic] NIGGA.”

Students have been subjected to online harassment using social networking sites like Facebook, and one Native American student was egged in 2000. The complaint sites a number of other racist incidents revolving around the Fighting Sioux logo.

According to the Associated Press, state leaders and UND President Robert Kelley are scheduled to discuss the nickname with NCAA executives Friday in Indianapolis.