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

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.

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