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North Dakota Higher Ed Board Will Sue To Drop 'Fighting Sioux' Nickname

Charles Tuttle, a backer of the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname, watches as a woman signs petitions supporting the nickname on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Dale Wetzel

It's an issue that's been controversial since at least the 1960s and, through the years, the University of North Dakota has vacillated on whether to keep its controversial "Fighting Sioux" nickname for its sports teams.

Today that controversy was extended, yet again, when North Dakota's Higher Education Board decided to go to court to challenge a voter referendum that could have forced the university to adopt the name again.

The story of the nickname is long and storied. The Grand Forks Herald has a timeline, if you're interested, but suffice it to say that at different points in the past 40-plus years, people have found the name racist and offensive to Native Americans or supported the name and logo saying its not a matter of race, instead it's one about pride. At various points, Indian tribes have supported the name and opposed it.

The latest wrinkle came about two months ago, when the university decided to drop the nickname. But last week, the AP reports, it was resurrected, after "residents generated 17,000 signatures seeking to put the issue to a statewide vote."

But the issue is far from settled, now. We'll let the AP explain it:

"The board voted to file a lawsuit Monday after a meeting by telephone with the state attorney general. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says he's confident the law violates the state constitution and he believes the board will win in court.

"The university has been seeking to drop the nickname because it fears penalties from the NCAA, which considers it offensive to Native Americans.

"But the nickname has strong support among state residents who filed referendum petitions last week to put the question to voters. If state officials determine enough signatures are valid, the issue could appear on the June 12 primary ballot."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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