Sunday, 18 March 2012

And Then There's Sioux

The University of North Dakota is making things difficult on the NCAA in their fight over their chosen team name of "Fighting Sioux". The men's hockey team decided that it wanted to play a little longer and won the WCHA hockey tournament this weekend to qualify for the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. While UND doesn't have to worry about hosting any of the games in this tournament, there are still sanctions that the NCAA can impose on UND despite the Sioux being the fourth-seed in the tournament.

Three sanctions were immediately imposed on UND in late February after UND decided to give into petitioners who forced the government to repeal a law allowing the university to continue using the Sioux name and imagery. The sanctions were swift and harsh in their initial delivery, but the letter outlining the sanctions was very diplomatic. The following is the letter in its entirety:

Dear Dr. LeBel:

President Robert Kelly (sic) recently informed me that the University of North Dakota was resuming its use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and imagery in connection with its athletics program. I noted in my discussion with you and Mr. Brain (sic) Faison that this action by the university means that your athletic programs are subject to the NCAA’s policies concerning participation in NCAA championships. Please allow me to reiterate the limitations that are in effect immediately:

1. No University of North Dakota team may host an NCAA championship round. If a North Dakota team is selected as the lower-seeded team in a championship competition, North Dakota would be designated as the “home” team but would be assigned to play at the higher-seeded institution’s venue.

2. If the university accepts an invitation to participate in any postseason competition, the NCAA policy requires that student-athletes, band, cheerleading, dance and mascot uniforms and paraphernalia not have hostile or abusive racial/ethnic/national original references during the NCAA championship competition.

3. If an invitation is accepted and the university must forfeit competition because it has not adhered to this requirement, the NCAA reserves its right to seek reimbursement for expenses incurred by the Association for travel, per diem or other expenses in connection with the championship.

It is the spirit of the NCAA’s championship policy that the competing student-athletes (both North Dakota and its opponents) not be distracted or disrupted during the championship by debates about when and where your institution’s Native American imagery or nickname may be displayed or worn. Therefore, we ask that the university take measures to minimize or eliminate the presence of the imagery or nickname brought to an NCAA championship venue.

Should you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.

Bernard W. Franklin
Executive Vice President of Membership and Student-Athlete Affairs/Chief Inclusion Officer
With these sanctions already imposed, it means that the Sioux would have to use a different uniform than their normal jerseys. Having worn their normal Sioux uniforms all season long, special jerseys had to be made for their March 24 date with Western Michigan in the first game of the regional bracket.

"It's pretty simple," Athletic Director Brian Faison said to Chuck Haga of the Grand Forks Herald. "We have to wear the new uniforms or we forfeit."

With new uniforms to be unveiled in St. Paul this weekend, the sanctions actually run deeper than just what the teams wear on the ice. It actually affects everything that the Sioux do while under the watchful eye of the NCAA. That means that everything is up for inspection when it comes to not showing the Sioux logo: hockey bags, luggage, luggage tags, cheerleader gear, t-shirts, sheet music for the band - if anyone from the team or school is seen sporting a logo, it could mean instant forfeit for the Sioux. The only people, it seems, who will not have the sanction imposed on them are the fans.

Reportedly, UND administration will locate some sort of North Dakota gear for the band to wear while they provide the victory music for the Sioux, but this whole thing is starting to be a little ridiculous.

I get that the NCAA wants to remove itself from any sort of conversation with regards to the rights of Native Americans, and that's their call. They are entitled to do what they think is best for their business. UND and the State Board of Higher Education were given three years by the NCAA to gain nickname approval from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes. Spirit Lake gave its consent in 2009, but Standing Rock refused to reverse its longstanding opposition thanks to the tribal elders. Again, that's their right, but it's not like UND is bringing shame to the tribes or their peoples.

There really is only one thing that is certain: the UND men's hockey team will wear new uniforms against Western Michigan this weekend. And while the fans rock the Xcel Energy Center in their Fighting Sioux gear, the team on the ice will try to continue their impressive win streak.

When it comes to the name of UND's teams, this is one problem that may not be resolved for quite some time. Perhaps these uniform loopholes will be closed by the NCAA one day, but it has allowed UND to participate in the Frozen Four despite their demands. For this weekend, the Sioux name will be represented proudly by 25 men who want nothing more to bring home victory.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Ray Verbeek said...

As a hockey fan, a UND fan, and a fan of common sense... nice blog post!