The End of the Fighting Sioux
This past Thursday a State Supreme Court ruled that the University of North Dakota would be allowed to put an end to its team’s nickname: The Fighting Sioux. The college has wanted to change the nickname to be allowed into the NCAA Division I Summit League. The NCAA has been quoted as believing that the name is “hostile and offensive” and so would not clear the school for admittance until it was changed. But who was trying to bar the school from changing the nickname? A bunch of conversative traditionalists who didn’t see anything wrong with having a nickname that might be somehow construed as offensive? No. Actually it was eight tribal leaders from the nearby Spirit Lake Sioux community who wanted the school to keep its nickname.
The NCAA offered a compromise, saying that if both of North Dakota’s tribes agreed to allow the nickname, then it would be fine. However, only the Spirit Lake community voted to back the nickname. The Standing Rock community didn’t vote on it, not because they do or don’t support the name, but because they have refused to change the bylaws of their tribe in order to even allow them to vote about whether or not to support the name.
Native Americans have a long history of being shafted in this country, even when it comes to sports teams and their names. Just look at the Washington REDSKINS or the Cleveland Indians’ logo. But I don’t find the title “The Fighting Sioux” to really be offensive. It calls up images of badass warriors like Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse not racial features or mockery.
Furthermore, the Spring Lake tribe actually wants the nickname to stick as a matter of representation for the Sioux who are native to the area. It’s true that the Standing Rock tribe did not support the nickname, but neither did they denounce it. It is simply in their culture that they will not vote on the issue. Besides, there is already precedent for a college sporting a Native American based nickname with mixed opinions.
The Florida State Seminoles have a close tie to the Seminole tribe and have worked closely with the tribe to develop non-offensive symbols for their team like Chief Osceola. However, some members of the Seminole tribe of Oklahoma were against FSU using the Seminole as its logo, mascot, and team name. Since then, the Oklahoma tribe has relented in their opposition, but the NCAA supported FSU when that was not the case. And as far as the University of North Dakota is concerned, the only people who appear to oppose the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname are the NCAA.
Now, I can understand the NCAA’s, but I think it really is better policy not to make blanket decisions concerning what could and could not be considered offensive. When the people fighting against your policy are the people you’re trying not to hurt or insult, I think maybe it’s time to review your policies.