The University of North Dakota has resumed use of its "Fighting Sioux" nickname and Indian head logo after supporters filed petitions seeking a statewide vote to resolve a long-standing controversy, the university said on Wednesday.
North Dakota had intended to retire the name and logo under an agreement with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs college sports and adopted a policy in 2005 to bar images considered offensive by some Native American groups.
The NCAA allows schools to use the mascots, names or logos if they receive approval from namesake groups. The university had three years to obtain permission from two namesake tribes; one approved, but the second never voted on the request.
As a result, the university prepared for a transition away from the "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo last year. North Dakota lawmakers intervened early in 2011, passing a law that required the university to keep the name and logo.
Lawmakers repealed the law in November under the possibility of NCAA sanctions, but nickname supporters sought a statewide referendum on the repeal and filed their petitions on Tuesday.
State law requires a return to the previous law while the petitions are reviewed and then voted on if accepted.
The university has resumed use of the nickname and logo for its athletic teams "in keeping with state law," President Robert Kelley said in a statement on Wednesday. "I want to reaffirm our respect for the laws of the state and the processes guaranteed under the North Dakota Constitution."
Indian mascots, nicknames and logos have been used widely in U.S. sports, and approval of their continued use or retirement by 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 approved Florida State University's continued presentation of a mascot who wears an Indian headdress and rides horseback at football games.
The NCAA bars schools that use Native American nicknames, mascots or logos without permission from hosting championship events or wearing uniforms with the images during NCAA playoffs.
(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)