I’m a member of the Missisquoi Abenaki in northern Vermont, through my grandmother, who was born in Quebec. I’m also a University of North Dakota graduate, Class of 1980. I don’t live in North Dakota. I live in Texas. So as I’m reading the letters regarding the Fighting Sioux issue, and The Forum editorial 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, using 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 UND 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, 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.
I come to North Dakota often. I was there 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 wore a Fighting Sioux shirt on several occasions, and not once did I receive any sort of negative remark.
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.
Here’s my proposal. Let’s reopen the dialogue with the Sioux tribes and see if we can develop a partnership between the 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?
As I understand it, UND used to have an 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. If UND and the Sioux tribes could come together in agreement, it would benefit not just UND and the tribes but all of North Dakota and, of course, Sioux fans everywhere.
Brotherton, UND class of ’80, is an attorney with the Brotherton Law Firm of Texas. Email [email protected]