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UND's Student Senate hears nickname presentations

GRAND FORKS -- Supporters and opponents of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname spoke again to the Student Senate on Sunday evening, making familiar emotional arguments from the past.

The Senate heard both sides' presentations but did not take a stance. Some senators had written a resolution supporting the nickname, but there had been no vote at the end of the presentations.

From the opposition came charges of racism and claims that the issue was so divisive it was tearing families apart.

Frank Sage, a Navajo who opposes the nickname, said the issue affects all American Indian students on campus who feel the sting of racism more than anyone else.

Celeste Melander, a student and Standing Rock tribal member who supports the nickname, said she'd just like to see some documentation of these racist incidents instead of allegations.

From the pro-nickname side came arguments that the nickname can serve as a bridge between the Sioux people and UND, an opportunity to educate students about Sioux culture and history.

Amber Annis, an American Indian student and nickname opponent, asked what anyone has learned about Sioux people from the nickname. From the poor attendance at the powwows, she said, its clear area residents aren't that curious.

Some of the arguments reached far into the past.

Phyllis Young, a Standing Rock elder who opposes the nickname, claimed that her daughter didn't dare go to her graduation ceremony many years ago because of the pervasive racism on campus.

She spoke also of an American Indian professor and her daughter who were murdered here, implying it was because of racism.

That's an apparent reference to Dorothy Lentz, a part-time language instructor, and her daughter Pamela. Both were found dead in the late-1980s in an apartment on North 48th Street off Gateway Drive. The crime remains unsolved, but racism was not seen as a motive.

Tom Iron, a former tribal vice chairman from Standing Rock, spoke of serving in the Army in Vietnam and, after his discharge, training police to deal with "radicals" who took the fight against racism too far, such as that time in 1973. People, he said, should not be afraid of these radicals.

1973 was the year the American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. AIM has made fighting nicknames a key issue, and its leaders have spoken at UND.