Political matters


UND’s nickname controversy

On May 14 the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education unanimously passed a motion to retire the University of North Dakota “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo, effective Oct. 1, 2009. The action is based on a 2007 agreement between North Dakota education officials and the NCAA.

However, the board’s directive will be suspended if both the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribal governments approve of the Fighting Sioux nickname. On April 22, in a non-binding plebiscite, members of the Spirit Lake reservation voted two-to-one to approve of the Fighting Sioux name. But the tribal councils are on record in opposition to the UND nickname.

“Racism isn’t going to change overnight, but by eliminating the symbol,

you eliminate for the next generation any worth that is associated with

it,” said Ron His Horse is Thunder, chairman of the Standing Rock

Tribal Council, according to a UPI report. The tribal chairman said

that retiring the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo is “an opportunity

to make history… and take North Dakota into the forefront on race


Writing in The Bismarck Tribune, on May 31, Clay Jenkinson, the

director of the Dakota Institute and a Distinguished Visiting

Humanities Scholar at Bismarck State College, argued that the

“agreement reached between UND and the NCAA in 2007 unfairly shifted

the political burden of the Fighting Sioux controversy onto the backs

of the Native American community and North Dakota’s Indian leadership.

Although this may be seen as a form of empowerment, it had the effect

of forcing the Dakota and Lakota to make the final decision in a

university’s quarrel with the NCAA.”

In Jenkinson’s view, the nickname removal “process seems to me to

degrade everyone involved, and it does not seem fundamentally different

from the treaty charades of the 19th century, in which white men who

wanted something (usually land) showed up in Indian Country with

flattering rhetoric, presents, big promises and veiled threats, then

complacently smoked ‘victory’ cigars on the way back to ‘civilization,’

with land cessions or trespass agreements in their pockets.”

Jenkinson adds: “Some Fighting Sioux diehards are now pitting the

people of Spirit Lake against those of Standing Rock, and the rank and

file of both reservations against their elected leadership. Divide and

conquer – it’s a very old habit. Why do we do it? Because there is

something we want.”

Perhaps UND will ditch the Fighting Sioux nickname – they used to be

the Flickertails. The nickname issue has to be resolved before UND is

allowed to become the 12th member of the Summit League, a NCAA Division

I conference. And although we elected the nation’s first black

president, the NFL franchise in Washington, D.C., still goes by the

nickname Redskins. What is wrong with this picture?

A little medicine man?

The case of 13-year-old cancer victim Daniel Hauser, from Sleepy Eye,

Minn., was in the national news spotlight last month. Hauser, who is

being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was spirited off to Mexico by his

mother, Colleen, for alternative medical treatment. They later returned

to Minnesota to resume court-ordered chemotherapy at a Minneapolis


It is certainly not my intention to criticize an ill child. However,

Daniel has been saying that he is a medicine man, which rankles many in

the Indian community. In truth, Daniel’s mother went in search of

natural healing therapies for her seriously ill son, and found her way

to the Web site of the Nemenhah Band (nemenhah.org), which confers the

appellation of medicine man, or woman, on those who partake of the

“Ceremonial Service of Individual Spiritual Adoption.” The fee is

“$250.00 initially and $100.00 annually,” according to the group’s Web


Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin examined this apparent scam last

month. He suggested that if Colleen Hauser had probed more deeply, “she

would have found case files in which Nemenhah’s leader, Phillip

(Cloudpiler) Landis, who submitted testimony in the [Hauser] case, had

been convicted of fraud in two states.”

In an email sent to Tevlin, Al Carroll, a Mescalero Apache (a Fulbright

scholar, Ph.D. and author), said that the “Nemenhah are alt-medicine

types who hide behind a laughable pseudo-Native façade. That’s pure

Hollywood and New Age nonsense.” Carroll referred to the group’s

leaders as “plastic shamans.”

As in the controversy over Indian mascots and symbols employed for fun

and games, there are many unscrupulous people exploiting sacred Indian

ceremonies. Beyond the disrespect shown by these scam artists, there is

the danger that individuals will be harmed while participating in

pseudo-Indian rituals.