North Dakota lawmakers repeal "Fighting Sioux" law

Wed Nov 9, 2011 5:31pm EST

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(Reuters) - North Dakota lawmakers have ended a bid to keep the University of North Dakota's "Fighting Sioux" nickname and Indian head logo that put the school in conflict with some Native American groups and the NCAA.

North Dakota has for years been at the center of a dispute over the use of school mascots and nicknames seen as offensive by some American Indian groups and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs collegiate sports.

The state legislature approved a law earlier this year that required the retention of the nickname and logo, defying an agreement the school made with the NCAA to retire the symbols if it did not reach agreements with two namesake Sioux tribes.

One of the tribes approved the use of the nickname and logo, but the second did not, leading to plans for a transition to a new nickname and logo to begin this year. By requiring the university to retain the nickname and logo, the law had left the school open to NCAA sanctions.

NCAA policy bars schools that use Native American nicknames, mascots or logos from hosting championship events or wearing uniforms with those images during NCAA playoffs.

The repeal will allow the university to meet the terms of the NCAA settlement and pursue Big Sky Conference membership in good standing, University President Robert Kelley said in a statement.

Kelley said the nickname and logo would be "retired with dignity as it becomes part of the tradition and history of the University of North Dakota."

The university will be required to adopt no nickname or logo before January 2015 under the terms of the bill, which was approved by state senators on Tuesday, representatives on Wednesday, and then signed by Governor Jack Dalrymple.

Dalrymple had urged lawmakers on Monday to approve the measure, saying he believed it had been worth the effort to keep the nickname, but it was time to move on.

North Dakota lawmakers were meeting in a special session mainly to address flood recovery funding and redistricting.

The university has estimated the cost of retiring the logo and nickname at $750,000, not including potential changes at the hockey arena where its most successful school team plays.

An ardent supporter of the ice hockey program, former Sioux goaltender Ralph Engelstad, donated the money and supervised construction of the arena that opened 10 years ago with thousands of "Fighting Sioux" logos.

Indian mascots have been used widely in U.S. sports, and the retirement of logos and nicknames at major universities has been mixed.

Under pressure from the NCAA, the University of Illinois retired its Chief Illiniwek mascot who danced on the field at football games, but the namesake Seminole tribe gave Florida State University approval to continue a mascot who wears Indian headdress and rides horseback at football games.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)

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