Spirit Lake Sioux Taking The NCAA To Court Over Fighting Sioux Nickname

I’ve been saying for a while now that there’s a lot of irony in the busybody opponents of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname finding themselves pitted against actual Sioux Indians who not only don’t believe it to be racist or abusive but think of it as an important part of their history.

But this is going beyond irony. The Sioux are suing, accusing the NCAA of all manner of legal slights from defamation to violations of the Native American Civil Rights Act.

This, my friends, is for real:

FORT TOTTEN, ND – Speaking at the tribal headquarters of the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation, attorney Reed Soderstrom announced a lawsuit against the NCAA alleging copyright infringement and civil rights violations. The Sioux tribe supports the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo, but the NCAA has deemed them to be “hostile and abusive.”

“Today, the Spirit Lake Tribe of Indians, by and through its Committee of Understanding and Respect, and Archie Fool Bear, individually, and as Representative of more than 1004 Petitioners of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, filed a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association in direct response to their attempt to take away and prevent the North Dakota Sioux Indians from giving their name forever to the University of North Dakota,” said Soderstrom in prepared remarks.

Soderstrom alleges that the NCAA has violated “the religious and first amendment rights of the Dakota Sioux tribes.” He also alleged a double standard in the application of the NCAA’s policy against the use of Native American names and imagery. …

The lawsuit claims that the Sioux tribe were “indispensable parties” to a lawsuit filed by the State of North Dakota against the NCAA in 2007, the settlement of which required the state to get permission from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes, but were never included in negotiations of that settlement. It also alleges defamation, violations of the Indian Civil Rights Act, defamation and an unlawful restraint on trade.

The lawsuit asks that the NCAA’s policy be stricken and that the organization pay punitive damages in the amount of $10 million.

I wrote yesterday, in discussing today’s announcement from the Spirit Lake tribe, that it was likely a lawsuit they were filing. And as I wrote yesterday, I think this may change the political calculus of the efforts to repeal the state’s Fighting Sioux nickname.

The state’s lawmakers are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, the all-powerful higher education system has been lobbying hard to be rid of the nickname alleging that it will hurt the university’s athletics programs. On the other hand, most North Dakotans want to keep the nickname and lobbied hard during the regular session earlier this year to pass the law.

Now that the Sioux have taken the issue on themselves, it behooves the state’s leaders to back off and give them some room to settle this for themselves. After all, isn’t this whole issue about what is and is not offensive to Sioux Indians? The Spirit Lake tribe supports the nickname. The Standing Rock tribe is refusing to weigh in with a vote.

I don’t see how the NCAA can keep their policy in place, having let other schools keep their Native American logos and nicknames, in the face of opposition from the very people who they are supposedly helping.

Here’s a “fact sheet” about the lawsuit released by the tribe.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • DaveH63

    We the people!

  • spud

    All this means is the big sky conference now has an out to rid themselves of UND.  Good luck Spirit Lake nation going up against NCAA.  I still believe the state legislature will repeal the law.  UND needs the big sky conference the legislators know that also.  NCAA is independent organization and they get to make their rules that UND if it wants to be affiliated with must abide by.  But that is what courts are for to settle issues and spirit lake nation have those legal options and means to address their issues and they are using them.  And it continues.

    • RCND

      And maybe the Dakota Sioux can sue them too under many of the same counts the NCAA is being sued under.

    • Loudtrk

      Screw all college athletics. Just a way for the brainless and the worthless to mooch a free education from the taxpayers. Seriously is there a more corrupt system than college athletics. I would rather have my son involved with. Pimping or human trafficing than college football.

      • ec99

        What would all the $1 million coaches do for employment, seeing they’re unqualified for anything productive?

    • Gern Blanston

      If the Sioux people involved in this lawsuit lose to the NCAA, it will be interesting to read the opinion against them.

  • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

    NCAA = Great White Father in Indian-apolis.
    Sioux = the children in their care.

  • stan25

    The NCAA needs to be taken down entirely. They have way too much power. Any organization that allows teams, like Notre Dame, to play in bowls games year after year, even when they have a 0 – 11 season record is discriminatory in itself.

  • Jimmypop

    WOW. i wonder who gave and how much was given as a bribe for this.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Because it can’t just be that these people feel pride about the name, and consider it an important part of their heritage? I’m in the room listening to them right now. They’re serious about this.

      • Jimmy_Wildcat

        Any chance you could post a copy of the Complaint?

  • Tim Heise

    I support the Sioux.

  • Lianne

    I listened to as much of the annoucememt that was broadcasted. I heard the committment, the pride and the seriousness of their position. I also heard Dalrymple and how he offhandedly dismissed this law suit, he stated initially that he wasn’t even aware of such a suit, and that the special session will vote to remove the law that was passed this past spring and so strongly supported by the people across the state. Are you now Governor Dalrymple, you are governor for ALL the people of the state of ND. It is your job to heed the wishes, wants needs and desires of the majority of the people.

    • RCND

      The best thing they can do now is hold off on legislation repealing. There is pending litigation on the matter.

  • spud

    Supreme court has ruled on this NCAA is independent of this nonsense.  Do you really think they can win.  Do you really think they will win because it is not likely based on previous rulings.  Don’t base your thinking on Rob he doesn’t live there he won’t have to deal with the repercussions and “higher taxes to fill those empty seats at UND football and basketball games.  Get a grip on reality.

  • Rick Olson

    I guess this truly shows really how disingenuous that the NCAA is being on this.  The NCAA has absolutely no issues with the “Fighting Illini” of the University of Illinois nor the “Seminoles” of Florida State University.  However, since both Illinois and Florida State are large FBS schools; and UND is a small school in the NCAA’s eyes “out in the middle of nowhere,” perhaps this is the reasoning for the NCAA’s picking of its battle with UND.  What I’m worried about is that the filing of the lawsuit will give the Legislature an “out” on the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo issue; and the repeal bill which up until now seemed certain of being passed and enacted, the lawsuit definitely throws the proverbial wild card into the mix.  I do agree that the NCAA as a private orgnization, whose members including UND apply for and are granted membership in, the NCAA is free to set its own policies and rules.  Accordingly, its member institutions are contractually obligated to abide by all NCAA rules and policies, or suffer the consequences for not doing so.  I’m fairly certain that this latest development is going to weigh big time in the minds of the governing body of the Big Sky Conference.  I wouldn’t blame the Big Sky one bit if they chose to rescind UND’s invitation to join their conference.  One way or another, this issue needs a resolution and it needs to be settled now.  Either the NCAA backs off and allows UND to continue to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo (a long shot, for sure) or UND moves forward with retiring the nickname and logo. 

    It is long since time to put this matter to rest once and for all.  

    • RCND

      The NCAA is not above the law. If you read the counts, you will see that the complaint alleges they are in violation of several. The legislature should NOT act on the present law because of the pending lawsuit. The NCAA may also alledge they have the “right” to do whatever they want, but their Constitution does not grant them authority to make such policies (another count in the suit)

      • Rick Olson

        All I can suggest is you should e-mail your legislators.  I am all for keeing the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo myself (and I’m an NDSU alumnus).  Maybe this lawsuit will help keep those who are in charge of running the NCAA completely accountable.

      • spud

        Do you have a law degree.  Doubt it. Has Supreme Court ruled on behalf of NCAA being independent governing agency.  Yes.  Are you a door knob who likes to hear himself yak.  Yes.  Show me where odds are they will win.  I want the nickname also but not expense of the university the student athletes or taxpayers of Grand Forks who will have to pay higher taxes for lack of revenue coming out of other sports especially Alerus Center. 

        • Jimmy_Wildcat

          We need to incorporate the entire Constitution to private actors. For the sake of FREEDOM!

      • Spicer

        I wonder if the Sioux can file an injunction against the UND and the School Board to stop their proceedings, just wondering/

  • Dakotacyr

    Intentional infliction of emotional distress?  Really?  Now I know this won’t fly. Summary judgment for the NCAA licketysplit!

    • Jimmy_Wildcat

      The NCAA’s actions are “truly outrageous”. IIED claims have a 95% success rate.It said so on the internets.

  • Thresherman

    So I suppose the Spirit Lake Souix are all racists now as well.  After all, we were all told that anyone who supported this insulting, intimidating and hurtful symbol simply has to be racist.

  • ec99

    Rumor has it the NCAA is going to request Jahnke as the trial judge.

  • Vlad

    I think this lawsuit is an uphill fight, but some of the charges may have some merit. 

    I can see how them not being part of the settlement negotiations can void the settlement, but I am not sure if that gets UND or the Sioux tribe where they want to be.  It will not force the NCAA to allow the name to be used.

    It is a novel interpretation of copyright infringement and I don’t see how the Sioux tribe has the standing to allege copyright infringement for a copyright owned by UND.

    If the NCAA is a private club than I don’t think they need jurisdiction to make these decisions.  UND is voluntarily in the NCAA.  (A counter argument can be made that the NCAA is quasi governmental since it is made up of mostly governmental agencies and being a member is just barely voluntary.)

    I can’t see this violating the Indian Religious Freedom Act r the Indian Civil Rights Act.  Are going to UND sporting events a religious experience for the Sioux?

    Defamation is interesting, but it will be uphill to say that not allowing a different organization to use your tribe as a mascot is defamation.

    The equal protection of the laws argument presupposes that the NCAA makes laws. 

    The Unlawful Restraint of Trade and the interference with contracts is the strongest case. 

    The Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress is a throw in.

    I think the point of this case is to show the Sioux’s support for the name, not to actually win the case.  It might work.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      The best tactic here for the Sioux tribe will be to get as much media attention as possible and give the NCAA enough of a black eye they’ll just give up.

      That’s their best chance, and it may be a good one, because the NCAA trying to get rid of an Indian logo that Indians want to keep is pretty absurd.

      • Vlad

        I agree.  It seems to be a respectful logo.  It isn’t a racist term like the Washington.Redskins or an absurd characterization like the Cleveland Indians.  And if the allow the Florida State Seminoles and the Fighting Illini what is wrong with the Fighting Sioux.

  • bottineau bay

    You folks have way too much time on your hands. If the tribe wanted to sue for broken promises, I would think they should be far more interested in illegal land grabs and failed promises from the federal government. This isn’t about “racism”, it’s about folks (mostly non native0 with an economic and political stake in maintaining things the way that they are. Follow the money and see who is funding what.

  • Vlad

    I posted earlier on this thread and the post is gone.  Are you having problems with the server?

    • Jimmy_Wildcat

      I’ve been having the same problem…

      • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

        It’s been goofy all day.  Sometimes the comments on the sidebar are like 3 hours old despite 20 or 30 comments having been posted in the last 15 minutes.

        I think Disqus is having issues. I’ll check with them.

  • Jarethcutestory2012

    This isn’t going to work.  The NCAA is going to do what they want do.  They will dump UND from the Big Sky Conference and that’ll be the end of it. 

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