I’m a member of the Missisquoi Abenaki in northern Vermont, through my grandmother, who was born in Québec. I’m also a UND graduate, class of 1980. But I don’t live in North Dakota; in fact, I’m an attorney in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. So as I’m reading the letters regarding the Fighting Sioux issue, and the opinion piece from the Fargo Forum telling everyone to put the Fighting Sioux issue to bed, I feel compelled to speak out.
While in Vermont recently, I visited with our chief and tribal council regarding a number of local issues, and the topic of the Fighting Sioux came up. I asked the chief if he would object to the name “Fighting Abenaki”. He said “of course not”. We then talked about the opportunity presented in North Dakota for its tribes to share in revenues from the sale of Fighting Sioux items, utilizing a name that ranks in name recognition right up there with the Seminoles, who struck a deal with Florida State University that was so lucrative for the tribe, that the Seminoles have prospered almost beyond belief. He couldn’t understand why the Fighting Sioux name couldn’t be retained. I can’t either.
What’s preventing the University of North Dakota from sitting down with the Sioux tribes and working out a similar contract? Call me naïve but the Fighting Sioux issue is just not going to go away. And it shouldn’t. It is the epitome of political correctness gone mad.
An example – the NCAA threatening punishment for UND if its fans continue to use chants with the Fighting Sioux name. Give me a break. With many college athletes throughout the country engaged in criminal activity and presenting themselves as thugs with tattoos on every surface of their body, the NCAA is going to go after innocuous chants?
North Dakota is special to me and I’m especially appreciative of the University. I finished my undergraduate degree while working as a brakeman for the Burlington Northern Railroad. The school was great and the professors were very supportive as I obviously missed a lot of classes. But I persisted and graduated and I’ll always be grateful that UND worked with me so that I could graduate. I also felt a special bond to UND because of the Fighting Sioux name, which projected a proud uniqueness that I carried with me when I left North Dakota and ultimately moved to Texas and obtained a law degree. To be a Fighting Sioux met something to me as it obviously does to all the people who refuse to give up on the name.
I’m with them!
I come to North Dakota often. I was in North Dakota several weeks ago and I traveled throughout the eastern part of the state and visited a number of people from Grand Forks to Walhalla. I also traveled in southern Manitoba. I wore a Fighting Sioux shirt on several occasions, and not once did I receive any sort of negative remark. In fact, everyone I spoke to lamented the fact that the name was no longer associated with the University. I found a general malaise in regards to what has happened with our Fighting Sioux name, and extreme disappointment in the debacle of hiring a consultant to come up with names like the Roughriders and the North Stars, which quite frankly haven’t generated a lot of enthusiasm. It says a lot when so many people just want the name to be “North Dakota” The name North Dakota itself is from a Sioux word meaning friend. I don’t think anyone appreciates the irony.
In Vermont a month or so ago, not one person objected to my Fighting Sioux shirt and certainly no one from my tribe. Indeed, many Vermonters spoke of how they regretted the loss of the Fighting Sioux name because of the hockey rivalry between the University of Vermont and UND.
So here’s my proposal. Let’s reopen the dialogue with the Sioux tribes and see if we can develop a partnership between the Sioux tribes and UND to equally share any revenues derived from the use of the Sioux name. If the term fighting is objectionable, why not the Proud Sioux or just the Sioux?
The Seminoles and Florida State University have made a similar arrangement work for the benefit of both, and their relationship even includes a Seminole warrior in traditional dress on a white stallion. I haven’t seen one iota of protest regarding this arrangement. I can’t see why it wouldn’t work in North Dakota.
As I understand it, UND used to have a similar arrangement. A portion of the revenues realized from the sale of Fighting Sioux items was designated to go into a special fund for the benefit of Native American students. During the final years of the use of the name Fighting Sioux, I understand that some of those monies went into the University general fund. I believe this contributed to the sometimes fractious relationship between UND and the Sioux.
With the upcoming change in UND administration, this would seem to be the time to attempt to reconcile this issue. If we don’t make this effort now, our opportunity is squandered and lost forever. I would certainly appreciate any communications from the Sioux tribes that want to try and make this proposal work. If UND and all of the Sioux tribes could come together in agreement, it would benefit not just UND and the Sioux tribes, but all of North Dakota and of course, Sioux fans everywhere.
William J. Brotherton is an attorney with the Brotherton Law Firm and may be contacted at [email protected]