The Fighting Sioux

UND’s Ralph Englestad Arena

I am a Fighting Sioux, and as a woman with a few Native American ancestors and ancestral ties to North Dakota, I’m proud of it.

Today I was disappointed to see an email go out from University of North Dakota leadership saying that the State Board of Education has directed the school to resume the retirement of its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. This is after the state legislature passed a law intended to retain the insignia.

I just spent two weeks at UND and made it a point to talk to locals about their feelings on the nickname and logo controversy. It seems that (primarily) out of state interests have been pushing UND to rid themselves of an “offensive” logo for quite some time. They’ve been threatening to exclude the school from certain athletic associations if they don’t comply.

Ralph Englestad Arena

Locally, I didn’t talk to anyone who expressed a problem with it. There is fierce Fighting Sioux pride in Grand Forks, and one of two local Sioux tribes hasn’t objected to that. I must acknowledge that in years past, there have been Native American groups who have opposed the use of the nickname. It is interesting to note that a Native American artist designed the Sioux logo. You’ll find the logo on scores of things school-related, and the cost to change it seems like it would be extraordinary.

Some people told me that Ralph Englestad, the UND alumnus and businessman who dropped $110 million on the hockey arena bearing his name, directed the school to tear the arena down if the logo should change. A coworker from Grand Forks told me to be sure to check out the arena when I visited, and I was awed by its grandeur and cleanliness. It is the nicest sporting facility I’ve ever been in, with leather seats even in the nosebleed section and granite floors throughout.

When I visited the arena for the second time, I discovered a huge statue in honor of Sitting Bull at one end of the parking lot. The plaque reads:

UND Sitting Bull Plaque

Sitting Bull remains a controversial figure due to his involvement in the Dakota War and other conflicts, but despite his mixed legacy in which some see him as a hero and some a villain, he is honored here.

UND Sitting Bull Tribute

In talking to people locally I wondered if I’d find that any homage to the Sioux was a superficial defense for retaining the nickname and logo. But that’s not what I found. I found people who are respectful of the school’s Sioux ties and proud of the fighting spirit the Sioux logo represents. Reality is that the history of both European and Native American people in the Dakotas is forever intertwined and I have yet to find someone there who’s ashamed of their heritage.

After seeing elements of this saga firsthand and talking to people about a possible change, I feel even more strongly that this is a North Dakota decision. I believe the legislature, especially in a difficult economic time, did the right thing in standing up for the school’s history and pride. I am proud of UND for involving Sioux tribal members in the debate and may think differently about this if it were they who initiated the action to eradicate the Fighting Sioux insignia.

There is sensitivity and diplomacy, which is mature and wise, but then there is frenzied political correctness that traipses around from state to state forcing institutions to conform to far away interests. If they win, what can we become that will accurately represent the types of people I met there?

Another people group name could offend someone from that people group. An animal name could misrepresent the nature of an endangered wild creature. I fear that UND is going to end up with a vague, sterile name of an inanimate object like the UND Runway Stripes, a feeble nod to the school’s aviation program.

Merrifield Hall, UND

If the goal is to not offend anyone, why not take it all the way and be the UND Marshmallow Rainbow Brites, except that could offend agave nectar producers as it favors a sugar cane-based product, and it might tick off longtime fans of Murky Dismal, Rainbow Brite’s nemesis. And it could rile up those who always favored Strawberry Shortcake or her nemesis, The Peculiar Purple Pie Man.

If the goal is to be fiscally responsible, well, that’s a no win situation. And will wrecking balls show up at the palace that is the Ralph Englestad Arena, or is that an idle threat?

If UND does end up having to abandon their identity as the Fighting Sioux, then it is the school and the state that should be deciding what they become, not the NCAA or anyone else. If it would be the most fair way of deciding the issue, let the people of North Dakota vote on it. Additionally, UND has an amazing Conflict Resolution Center that specializes in transformative mediation, a technique that could be very useful at a time like this, Outsiders should not meddle with UND’s pride– and we have a lot of it.

I am a WSU Cougar through and through. But I’m also a Fighting Sioux, having received degrees from both schools. Next to me I have an authentic UND Fighting Sioux hockey puck that smells like new car tires, emblazoned with the handsome profile that adorns untold numbers of UND items.

North Dakota – Past and Present

As I drove deep into the country past aging grain silos and golden canola fields less than two weeks ago to visit my great-great-great grandfather’s farm, I could feel North Dakota. The evidence of over a hundred years worth of history and hard work swept past me in as many miles, a past etched onto its people, a people unified by the will to survive.

They have not let floods destroy them, including the monstrosity that swept over Grand Forks in a blitz of flame and flotsam in 1997 or the current devastation in Minot. They hardly blink when sudden thunderstorms that cause bits of pavement to break loose and trickle down street shoulders let loose overhead. They weather the seasons and the humidity and the random blasts of train whistles that jolted me awake in bed.

From the perspective of someone from a milder climate, these people are fighters, and they are survivors. They live in a beautiful place where people will take three steps backward to open the door for you at the gas station and it seems that everyone in town has a degree from UND regardless of their job title. It is fitting that an institution built by and around North Dakotans is known collectively as the Fighting Sioux. They persist. They endure.

Obviously I don’t represent UND, Native Americans, or supporters of the Fighting Sioux logo. I speak for myself. But my question to the out-of-staters who want to revamp UND’s identity, as a 2011 out-of-stater graduate who just walked across the Chester Fritz stage with pink and green flowing down my back, is this: do you really know who the Fighting Sioux supporters are?

I’ve gained a better understanding of the history behind the Fighting Sioux name and of the people who take pride in it. No one I met seems racist. They aren’t simpletons. They are educated, hard-working people who value the history of their state whether the people who created that history were of European or Native American descent. If you’re determined to change their identity, then I challenge you to come up with something better.

Knowing now what I didn’t know three weeks ago, you might find that a very difficult task.

Flood Marker in Downtown Grand Forks


It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds. -Samuel Adams

©2011 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

3 thoughts on “The Fighting Sioux

  1. There are some silly stereotypes in sports that could be offensive. But UND is so respectful. And the Sioux were, in fact, fierce warriors. In this instance I see nothing that needs to be changed. Other than that these outside groups need to actually come west and see what is being done. It would be a shame to take away all the things that actually honor the people that the outsiders are trying to protect.


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