Native dignity in North Dakota

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Native people are standing a little taller because Native nations in North
Dakota stood up to the "Fighting Sioux" team name and won the backing of
the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The NCAA announced on Sept. 28 that it will keep the University of North
Dakota on its list of schools "subject to restrictions on the use of Native
American mascots, names and imagery at NCAA championships."

This decision does not require the team name or symbols to be changed -
only that they be kept out of sight in post-season games - but it brings
Native nations in both North and South Dakota a giant step closer to their
goal of retiring "Fighting Sioux."

"Although [UND] maintained that its logo and nickname are used with
consummate respect," stated NCAA Senior Vice President Bernard Franklin,
"the position of the namesake tribes and those affected by the hostile or
abusive environment that the nickname and logo create take precedence."

Franklin's statement referenced opposition to "Fighting Sioux" from the
Standing Rock, Sisseton-Wahpeton and Spirit Lake Tribes, all "namesake"
tribes, and the United Tribes of North Dakota board of directors, which is
comprised of representatives of all the tribes in the state.

"The decision of a namesake sovereign tribe, regarding when and how its
name and imagery can be used, must be respected even when others may not
agree."

The NCAA previously bowed to the wishes of the Seminole Tribe of Florida,
which won the day for Florida State University to use the name "Seminole"
and the mascot "Osceola" in championship games. The NCAA also took "Utes"
and "Chippewas" off the list after hearing from the Ute Tribe in Utah and
one of many Chippewa tribes.

UND once called its sports team "Sammy Sioux" and FSU's team was "Sammy
Seminole." The term "Sammy" was used by some white Europeans and Americans
as a pejorative for people of color - primarily Africans, East Indians and
African-Americans - and was synonymous with "blackie," "darkie" and worse.

In the 1960s and 1970s, both African- and Native Americans undertook
campaigns to eliminate the term. African-Americans concentrated on the use
of the term in "Sambo's" restaurants. American Indians focused on the
sports team names.

UND changed "Sammy Sioux" to "Fighting Sioux" FSU kept "Seminole" and
traded in "Sammy" and "Chief Fullabull" for "Chief Osceola."

Seminole Attorney Jim Shore wrote about that change - and the recent
decision by his client, the five-member council of the Seminole Tribe of
Florida, to support FSU's use of Seminole and Osceola - in an Aug. 27 op-ed
piece, "Play With Our Name," in The New York Times. He indicated that
everything was okay until the 1960s and 1970s, when activist groups began
challenging the use of some of these names, calling them offensive."

Shore related how FSU asked the Seminole Tribe if "their use of certain
symbols was accurate and respectful. We requested they stop using the
'Sammy the Seminole' caricature, and they did. Sammy was replaced by Chief
Osceola, who was a great tribal military leader and a brilliant battlefield
tactician. This was long before anyone at the NCAA even cared about the use
of Indian names and symbols."

While Shore lauds the good deeds and intentions of FSU, the school's Web
site tells a different story, bragging that the "tomahawk chop" started at
one of their games and mentioning that only a handful of Seminole people
have been students there.

Shore winds up his story of Seminole "accommodation" in this way: "And then
there's the university's impact in Tallahassee. Hundreds of Florida
government officials are [FSU] graduates and supporters. We deal with these
people every day."

One of the people they deal with - FSU Trustee Richard McFarlain - had to
publicly apologize to the Seminole Nation in Oklahoma for saying, "They got
run out of here by, who was it, Andrew Jackson or somebody like that? The
veil of tears? The real Seminoles stayed here." McFarlain, a former lawyer
for FSU, made these and other crude remarks during an Aug. 10 meeting of
the FSU trustees.

In North Dakota, UND alum Dr. David Gipp, Standing Rock Sioux, worked to
get rid of "Sammy Sioux," but he didn't stop at the "improved" team name.
Gipp, who is president of the United Tribes Technical College, and Standing
Rock council member and former Chairman Jesse Taken Alive, have advocated
an end to the "Fighting Sioux" name and symbols.

Taken Alive, Gipp and other Lakota/Dakota leaders are careful to support
the Native students and UND's educational opportunities for Native
students. "We're not against UND. We're for good education for our people."

The Sioux Tribes are supported by Chairman Tex Hall of the Mandan, Hidatsa
and Ankara Nations in North Dakota. Hall, who also is president of the
National Congress of American Indians, has a mandate from the members of
the oldest and largest national Indian organization to work toward the
elimination of all Native references in sports names and imagery.

Hall, Taken Alive and Gipp are conducting the effort in North Dakota and
nationally as a pro-Indian campaign for dignity and respect.

The shoulders of many Native people dropped when the Florida Seminoles made
the accommodation to play with their name.

The backbone exhibited by Native nations in North Dakota has made many of
us stand straighter and lift our heads a bit to admire dignified
leadership.