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Sioux Fight On? NCAA Approves Some Carryover

The University of North Dakota, after a long and contentious battle with the NCAA, has been granted concessions as a means of phasing out their "offensive" Native American imagery and moniker.

Elsa - Getty Images

It was announced Wednesday that the University of North Dakota, in their ongoing battle with the NCAA over the "Fighting Sioux" nickname and all of the imagery that goes with it, will be allowed to retain it to a certain degree. Things like the logos in the carpets, or engravings in furniture and murals in various athletic centers, are allowed to remain.

The university is even providing an agreeable compromise by creating "a commemorative wall within the athletic complex depicting the history of the Sioux Nation and its contributions to the state", with the goal being to remove any and all easily removable signage so that the school can be in compliance with the NCAA -- thus making it able to host postseason events at their facilities (like, say, the Frozen Four).

This all began picking up steam when, back in June, the state had a vote. There was initially a state law that mandated the use of the nickname, and the state legislature later repealed that law. The June vote upheld that repeal and the resulting intent to retire the nickname with a surprising 68 percent majority. Past reports had discussed much greater support than the June vote showed.

Whether by lack of interest in the nickname, or just lack of interest in dealing with the controversy anymore, the state's population across the board voted to do away with it all. Only one county voted to retain the nickname, and that was with a slim majority, just 50.3 percent of the vote.

ESPN's Paul Lukas - the guy who usually just writes about his opinions on uniform design changes and the like - provided a very unique and astute insight into this topic. He makes the excellent point that painting this as an issue of racial insensitivity, political correctness, or anything like that, is stabbing at the wrong issue. As Lukas said it:

It's not a question of whether such symbols are offensive, or whether they perpetuate outdated stereotypes; it's that they don't belong to us. If a non-Jewish group used a menorah or a Star of David in its marketing, wouldn't that raise a few eyebrows? Ditto for a non-military group using a Purple Heart. And if those examples don't pass the smell test, neither does a sports team using Native American iconography.

It's a bit of an exaggeration, but he makes a sound point. When was it decided that such use of names and images was the business of we (Caucasian) lay people? The NCAA is mistaken for making a blanket charge of these usages as "offensive," but schools who choose to use these nicknames and iconography as an attempted tribute should do it properly.

In his coverage of the ongoing story, Lukas actually put the word out to his readers for their comment, and received a small number (11) of very telling responses. Most were somewhere between unemotional and "not caring enough to demand change" but a steady sentiment stuck out - pro teams have no business using these monikers, but colleges who have made a concerted effort to create these brands only after consultation with the tribes they affect are doing just fine. Specifically:

"Bottom line: Our historical relationships with outside groups are fraught with broken treaties, agreements, and promises. As a result, we are generally distrustful of outside groups. Thus, we have a problem when an outside group tells us we ‘should feel honored’ by their usage of Native imagery. Rather than telling us to feel honored, let us decide how to be honored. And if that means dropping the imagery, please respect our culture."

So if the North Dakota community (and even the Sioux tribes themselves) aren't wholly agreeable to the task, then perhaps this compromise of retained imagery through historical presentation is the best that can be had. It would seem if not logical, then at least reasonable that, if half the crowd is apathetic and the other half is vocally against it, you would be best served to change it so you have half the crowd apathetic and half the crowd happy. Just don't punk out like Eastern Michigan.

Back in 1991, the school dropped their "Hurons" nickname and associate imagery in favor of "Eagles" to comply with a Michigan state legislative recommendation - despite the tribe it represented being perfectly OK with the whole situation - and angered many people. Some were so incensed that there are alumni to this day (some of them deep-pocketed) who are actively choosing to not donate as a form of protest.

Eastern Michigan says they are now working on bringing back all of the old logos and icons that are not at all offensive to the people they thought were offended - but they've done so in such a subtle way that I'm not sure why they bothered. The first place they have put it is on the marching band's jackets - which sounds great, until you realize that they placed it beside the school's other old logo (the Normalite logo that pre-dates the Hurons) on the bottom jacket lapel (look at the story photo), which means the logo isn't even visible when the uniform is worn properly (aka anywhere outside the locker rooms and travel buses).

If you are going to go with a Native American-inspired nickname, logo,or anything else that comes along with it, do it fully and properly. Talk to the tribe it is intended to represent, get their full permission, and then represent that nickname and imagery with the proper respect (both by avoiding cartoonish images and through your behavior towards the tribe).

Either represent it or don't, rather than saying you are bringing it back to prominence and then hiding it where nobody can see.