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UND nickname effort on Standing Rock reservation faces delay

GRAND FORKS -- A referendum on UND's Fighting Sioux nickname at the Standing Rock reservation may not happen before the state-imposed Oct. 1 deadline, a leading tribal nickname supporter said.

Archie Fool Bear had been trying to present a case for a referendum before the Tribal Council and, after many delays, he said the council voted 8-4 Tuesday not to discuss the issue.

"I guess I'll have to start another avenue here to get it on the council floor," he said. "Everybody's worried about this Oct. 1 deadline and so forth, but I don't think that's written in stone. I don't think anybody thinks it's written in stone."

The State Board of Higher Education voted in May to move the deadline to Oct. 1 because, board members said, that could expedite UND's entry into the Summit League, a key league for university athletics.

The other avenue, Fool Bear said, is to present a petition with signatures from voters to the council. After the tribal elections Sept. 30, he said, he hoped a friendlier council would be installed, one that would be willing to let the people vote.

Nickname supporters have not yet gathered signatures, he said, because the wording of the petition is tricky.

Potential issues

Unlike the Spirit Lake referendum, where it was mostly a "yes" or "no" vote, there are potential constitutional issues involved at Standing Rock, Fool Bear said.

By this, he was referencing several things. First, Chairman Ron His Horse Is Thunder and the tribal attorney have both said the constitution does not allow petition-based referendums.

Second, nickname supporters maintain that tribal elders had given UND the nickname in a sacred pipe ceremony 40 years ago, and that kind of ceremony never can be undone. This is important, Fool Bear argues, because the constitution says the tribe has to recognize the traditional laws and customs of the tribe.

The practical effect of this delay, though, is the signature-gathering effort, which can take weeks or months, may be too late to have an effect on the Sept. 30 election. Typically, there is a period of a few weeks before the election when ballots are printed and advertised.

Under a settlement with the NCAA, which considers American Indian nicknames offensive, UND and the state needs the support of the state's two Sioux tribes. The Spirit Lake tribe had earlier voted overwhelmingly to support the nickname, so now the decision falls to Standing Rock.

The original timetable laid out in that settlement said UND had until February 2010 to win support. Failing that, it'd have to begin retiring the nickname and be rid of the nickname by Nov. 30, 2010.

The state board decision supersedes that.