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University of North Dakota needs tribal approval on 'Sioux' nickname

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By Dave Kolpack -- Associated Press

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) - The state Board of Higher Education settled a lawsuit with the NCAA over the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname, giving the school three years to get tribal approval to keep it.

The board voted unanimously Oct. 26 to approve the settlement after a closed-door briefing from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. If the school does not get approval from the Spirit Lake Sioux and Standing Rock Sioux tribes by Nov. 30, 2010, it will have to change to a new name and logo.

''The settlement confirms that the Sioux people and no one else should decide whether and how their name should be used,'' Bernard Franklin, an NCAA senior vice president, said in a statement.

The NCAA in 2005 banned the use of the nickname in postseason play, labeling it hostile and abusive. UND sued to challenge the ban last year and got a temporary order allowing the use of the nickname and logo while the case moved through court.

Eighteen schools originally were on a 2005 list of NCAA offenders using offensive American Indian nicknames and logos. A number of schools made changes while some won appeals with support from area tribes.

''I think it's important to remember that without this lawsuit, we would have been immediately subjected to the NCAA restrictions,'' Stenehjem said. ''We had no options but to proceed to court.''

North Dakota tribal officials have said the three-year period allowed in the settlement puts undue pressure on them. Standing Rock Chairman Ron His Horse is Thunder and Spirit Lake Nation Chairman Myra Pearson could not immediately be reached for comment.

''We are not going to be fighting this in 10 years, in 20 years, in 30 years,'' Stenehjem said. ''This is an issue that needs to be resolved, needs to be concluded.''

If approval of the nickname is withdrawn later from either tribe, the waiver also will be withdrawn, the agreement states.

The North Dakota lawsuit cost an estimated $2 million in legal fees and services. Stenehjem said it was paid with private donations.

If the nickname is changed, UND would have to remove most of its Indian imagery on its Grand Forks campus. It could keep historical items and items embedded in the architecture, under the agreement.

Officials have estimated UND's Ralph Engelstad Arena has at least 3,000 Fighting Sioux logos, including a 10-foot sketch of an Indian head embedded in the granite floor.

The settlement includes a statement by the NCAA calling UND is a ''national leader in offering educational programs to Native Americans.''

Board of Higher Education President John Q. Paulsen said he was pleased by the recognition.

''The University of North Dakota deserves to have its honor restored in terms of its longstanding commitment to programs for Native American students,'' Paulsen said.

UND is a member of the North Central Conference, which will be disbanded after the 2007 - '08 season. The conference includes the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which will be joining the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.