We must now consider North Dakota University – and why we should care. The school, way up there on the tundra, for many years has fielded athletic teams called the Fighting Sioux. But in this era of political correctness, the name is deemed insulting and demeaning to fighters. No, actually, insulting to Sioux. The NCAA ruled several years ago the university must change its name to something more suitable for delicate minds or NDU cannot host or participate in NCAA postseason games as the Fighting Sioux. What’s more, other schools are refusing to play in Grand Forks and NDU’s attempt to join a bigger and better athletic conference may be in peril.
Well, them’s Fighting (Sioux) words. Besides, the campus is covered with Sioux stuff. The lobby of the school’s Ralph Engelstad Arena has a huge Indian head logo in the marble floor. The gift shop is – what else? — the Sioux Shop where more than 90 percent of the merchandise features the logo or the nickname. The head of an Indian warrior wearing feathers is everywhere in the stadium — on team jerseys, etched on the aisles, on walls, in locker rooms.
There was a North Dakota state law requiring the university to keep the nickname, but it was repealed. Then the repeal was repealed. The battle has dragged on for seven long years, even involving the North Dakota Supreme Court. The last round was a referendum: Organizers presented more than 17,000 signatures on a petition calling for a statewide vote, which will be held in June. Keeps them busy. If you’ve seen the movie “Fargo” you know that, aside from tossing people into wood chippers, not a lot happens in North Dakota. But to make the change again won’t be cheap: $750,000 was spent on the original transition.
This fight is only the latest chapter in the Politically Correct, or PC, movement to do away with traditions. UT-Arlington used to be the Rebels. Indeed, a lot of Southern schools once called themselves Rebels. Not any more. As far as I know, there is no groundswell to change the New York Yankees to the Emancipators. The Stanford Indians became the Cardinal. Marquette University changed its team name from the Warriors to the Golden Eagles.
Somehow the Florida State Seminoles have avoided the change. Some say it’s because the actual Seminoles in Florida like the name. Others note Florida State wins national titles and generates big bucks for everyone, including the NCAA, unlike North Dakota. That’s cynical, and probably true. The University of Utah still calls itself the Utes, which beats their first choice: the Multi-Married Mormons.
Here’s a good one: The University of Oklahoma once had an Indian mascot, Little Red, who at OU football games would dress in red and white war paint and feathered bonnet (school colors). When OU would score a touchdown the band’s drummers would beat a tom-tom rhythm and Little Red would dance around, waving his tomahawk and yelling war chants. This was eventually deemed in poor taste and humiliating to our noble savages, so the job was abolished. Unfortunately, the slot was reserved for full-bloodied Indians, and included a total scholarship at OU. “Don’t do me any more favors, round eyes, as long as the rivers shall run and the buffalo shall roam.” It’s a good story, but I can’t confirm it.
The Florida State situation highlights some confusion in this policy. Since the NCAA says schools can keep their names if it’s OK with the Indians, and the Seminoles like the idea, why can’t NDU? Because the Spirit Lake Tribe voted to allow the use of the Fighting Sioux, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council opposes the nickname. Incidentally, the pros don’t seem to be changing at all: the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians.
It seems most Indian activists oppose the use of Indian names, but the rank and file don’t care. According to a Sports Illustrated survey in 2002, “There is a near total disconnect between Indian activists and the Native American population on this issue.” Indeed, there is even a fight over what to call whom. The title “Indian” is being replaced by “Native American” among activists. But the federal agency which oversees the Native American affairs is called the Bureau of Indian – yes, Indian – Affairs, and is headed by Larry EchoHawk. Go figure.
According to the American Indian Cultural Support, as of 2006, at least 2,498 kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools used Indian mascots, so there is a lot of work to be done with school names. But the facelift doesn’t end on campus. The word “squaw” has disappeared from the names of all public places in Maine – about six of them. The erasure came 11 years after a state law required the change, but it took till now for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to approve the move. Most Indians in Maine say “squaw” is offensive and translates to prostitute. The law doesn’t cover the privately owned Big Squaw Mountain Resort, and the owner said he is not changing the name. Of course, Squaw Valley, Calif., was the scene of the 1960 Winter Olympics and no one seemed to mind, not even India.
Here in Texas, there was a road just west of Port Arthur called Jap Road because years ago a Japanese rice farmer lived nearby. I think they changed the name because no Toyota dealership would set up shop there. As for the battle of the North Dakota teams’ title, note the name in dispute is the Fighting Sioux, not the Fightin’, a spelling which is so popular among college organizations. I’m going to buy the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band a “g.” Also, is the disturbing part of the name Fighting or Sioux? Maybe the Mincing Sioux or the Fighting Sue would past muster. Finally, we must expect at future North Dakota games, ticket scalpers will be called “entry adjusters.”
Ashby is PC at firstname.lastname@example.org