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North Dakota to retire Fighting Sioux nickname, logo

MAYVILLE, N.D. - The state Board of Higher Education decided today to retire the UND Fighting Sioux logo and nickname and directed Chancellor Bill Goetz to so advise UND President Robert Kelley and urge him to begin the transition.

The board's president, Richie Smith, brought up the logo issue at the end of an all-day meeting, noting that as the board convened this morning the state Supreme Court affirmed a district court ruling that struck down an injunction that had been sought by several members of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe.

Smith noted that the board voted in May 2009 to retire the name. Lifting the injunction put that action back into effect, he said, and unless he heard a motion to reconsider, "the name is dropped."

Board member Claus Lembke of Bismarck offered a motion to reconsider, but it died for a lack of a second. At that point, Smith turned to Goetz and directed him to send a letter to Kelley recommending the transition begin.

The court ruled this morning that the higher ed board has the authority to change the name at any time. Those Spirit Lake tribal members had asked the court to direct the board to wait until Nov. 30 to decide whether to drop the logo and nickname.

Smith said the decision was what the board expected.

In a 2007 settlement with the NCAA, which considers American Indian nicknames and logos offensive, UND was given until Nov. 30 of this year to win approval of continued use of the logo from the state's two tribes or retire it.

"We construe the language of the settlement agreement as a whole to allow UND to transition to a new nickname and logo at the end of the approval period, 'or at any time during the Approval Period,' " the court wrote in its unanimous opinion.

"We conclude the plain and unambiguous language of the settlement agreement, when construed as a whole and in conjunction with the Board's constitutional and statutory authority, does not require the Board or UND to continue using the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo until November 30, 2010.

"We therefore conclude the settlement agreement, when construed as a whole, does not delegate to the two tribes the ultimate authority to determine usage of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, or limit the Board's authority to terminate the nickname and logo before November 30, 2010.

"Because we construe the language of the settlement agreement to permit the Board to terminate UND's nickname and logo before November 30, 2010, it is not necessary to further consider the issue about the plaintiffs' standing. We have considered the remaining issues and arguments raised by the parties and find them to be either unnecessary to our decision or without merit."

Chuck Haga is a reporter at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.