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Trimble: The demise of the Fighting Sioux

In the furnished apartment where my wife and I lived when we were first married in 1962, there was a large framed print of a god-awful painting that hung on the wall behind our couch. I detested the picture and would spend several moments cursing it every evening when I came home from work. My wife suggested I take it down if it bothered me so much, which I did. However, in a short time – a couple of days – I began to miss the painting. I no longer had something to help me to blow off steam from the day’s frustrations. So I hung it back up and things were fine.

That’s what I feel is going to happen now that the Fighting Sioux no longer lives on the campus of the University of North Dakota, nor in the cellar of whatever conference UND plays in. I’m going to miss it, and Indian newspapers are going to find much empty space, especially on their op-ed pages.

Now comes the interesting process of selecting a new name and mascot for the university. I had suggested before that Mad Russians or Bouncing Czechs might be more representative of the demographics of the state, or perhaps the Terrible Swedes. North Dakota State already has the mascot name Bison, which someone has already charged was exploitation of something sacred and suggested should be the cause of the next PC war.

Now comes the interesting process of selecting a new name and mascot for the university. I had suggested before that Mad Russians or Bouncing Czechs might be more representative of the demographics of the state.




Someone from Rosebud suggested a long time ago that UND just go by the name of The Fighting Little Snakes. The word Sioux is derived from the Chippewa word Nadoweesiou, which means “lesser adder,” or little snake. The name Fighting Little Snakes would be a symbolic victory for the university. But while they’re sulking and grumbling about us pesky savages, let’s give them some assistance. Let’s help them find another name.

High schools are a source of some clever names, my favorite being the team of the little Montana town of Belfry. You guessed it, Bats. And Papillion here in Nebraska was clever in selecting the name Monarchs. The word papillion is French for butterfly and let’s face it – a team averaging 300 pounds on the offensive line should not be called the Butterflies. However, the suburban Omaha town of Benson has taken the name Bunnies, and regularly turns out material for the Nebraska Huskers football team. And the University of Nebraska team went by the name of Bug-eaters for years before they adopted the more mundane moniker, Cornhuskers. Most fans out here have shucked the word corn off the name and just call them Huskers, which sounds less pastoral and more virile. When they start winning again, they’ll again be Big Red.

In the NFL, I think Baltimore ought to get some prize for their name, Ravens, which is derived from the bird in the poem by the city’s favorite son, Edgar Allen Poe. But those damn Redskins in Washington just keep flipping us the bird and beating us in court to keep their ugly and hateful name.

A good negotiator on the tribes’ side could have gained much in scholarships and programs for Native students as a trade-off for using the name.

Back to the University of North Dakota, I was never offended by their name the Fighting Sioux. And I think there are many Lakotas, Dakotas and Nakotas who are not offended, both on the UND campus and elsewhere. It is an apt name, and if you want proof, just go to a council meeting on any reservation in North or South Dakota. If anything, the name is a redundancy. I think UND betrayed the name, for if they were really like the Fighting Sioux, they would still be sporting the name.

The process of finally consulting the tribes, and even bringing the issue to a vote on the reservations would have proven interesting. And a good negotiator on the tribes’ side could have gained much in scholarships and programs for Native students as a trade-off for using the name. The close-order shrill teams that put up such a ruckus against names that offend them, and work to get other students who are too busy to notice properly offended, are disappearing Native America faster than the U.S. government ever could with their warfare, boarding schools, missionaries and relocation programs.

Oh well, what is past is past. But, I still would like to hear from readers with suggestions for a new name for the Nordakota folk up at their university. Think about it: What is North Dakota noted for? How about the “Blowing Wind?” The natural motto “Wind Power” would have a green effect, which is so “in” these days, and along with a million dollar honorarium, might merit a commencement address by Al Gore.

Send me your suggestions (but not those that tell me where I should go) for names. Send them to the Blog on my Web site: iktomisweb.com.

Charles Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association, and served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972 – 1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Neb. He can be reached at cchuktrim@aol.com. His Web site is iktomisweb.com.