The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux are back! For now, anyway — although UND was just snubbed over the name, so watch this space.
The Grand Forks-based school has been embroiled for decades in a tug of war over its moniker and logo, which features a Native American warrior wearing a feather headdress.
Traditionalists have fought to keep it while those who believe it is offensive to Native Americans have long argued it needs to be retired in favor of something more politically correct.
UND officially dropped the divisive nickname in late 2011 but it was resurrected this month after local residents collected 17,000 signatures seeking to put the issue to a state-wide vote. As part of the process, a law requiring the school to reinstate the nickname went back into effect.
This, despite the fact university officials, the state’s Board of Higher Education and local lawmakers, want it banished for good.
Like it or not, the Fighting Sioux brand is one of the strongest in U.S. college sports. Merchandise bearing its logo not only flies off the shelves in North Dakota but across the country and into neighboring Manitoba.
If those advocating for change are ultimately successful, the school’s challenge will be to develop and build a brand that may never surpass the power and awareness of the Fighting Sioux.
(The Sioux nickname was adopted in 1930 after the UND newspaper openly lobbied for it. It’s not clear, however, when the “Fighting” was added.) Jonathan Toews, captain of the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks, is one of the highest-profile proponents of the Fighting Sioux brand. He played his college hockey at UND from 2005 until 2007.
“I play on a team with the best uniform and logo in the NHL and I think I wore the best uniform and logo when I was in college. I hope they keep it,” he says, adding he feels the school’s teams honor Native Americans.
This sort of debate has swirled around many other teams with American Indian-inspired nicknames, such as the Washington Redskins, the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians.
The occasional one will change — Marquette University, for example, changed its team name from the Warriors to the Golden Eagles in 1994 — but the vast majority don’t. The way things have been going in North Dakota, however, the debate will be raging on long after Toews has retired.