Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Sioux in The Frozen Four--Time for a Nickname Change?

The Final Four is done. Everyone knows what it is and there’s more money bet on it both legally and illegally than any other sporting event in the nation. Now it’s time for the fun tourney—the Frozen Four, which is the NCAA Hockey championships.

See, I went to a small college which plays big time hockey—the University of North Dakota. They’ve been national champs 8 times and are the favorite again this year as the highest seeded team to advance through the Regionals.

What I’ve always liked is that UND is a small school with 14,000 students. When I graduated in 1973 there were only about 8,000. And yet it goes up against the “big boys” playing in the same conference as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Now, this year’s Frozen Four is being held in Minneapolis about 300 miles Southeast of Grand Forks, North Dakota where UND is located. The other teams in the Frozen Four are Michigan, Notre Dame and Minnesota-Duluth. And I really, really hope the Fighting Sioux from UND kick some serious butt and win a national championship.

Hockey is a tradition at UND. When I was an undergraduate in the early 70’s we played in a huge old Quonset building that was unheated. If it was 30 below zero outside, it would be about 20 below inside. And the colder it was, the more the building rocked. Talk about a home rink advantage.

But, do you know what I also hope? I hope that they take the championship home and then finally retire the name Fighting Sioux. I know that won’t sit too well with a bunch of people in North Dakota and who graduated from there but it’s time. The NCAA has been after UND to do that for a number of years and the school is the only university in the nation which has not complied with an NCAA request and directive to eliminate nicknames which are considered to be racially derogatory. It’s time.

This controversy has been going on at UND for 40 years (I remember it rearing its head in the early 70’s during the height of Native American activism to the extent that UND went for a couple of years with the seal of the University as the logo on its hockey jerseys rather than the Indian head that had been the image for years and years).

A few years back, a major benefactor of UND donated $100 million to build a new hockey arena festooning it with thousands of Fighting Sioux logos which would cost millions to remove. This was done intentionally to keep the name and image of the university the same. There was even a major story/expose of this in Sports Illustrated and other articles in newspapers across the nation and on major TV news networks.

There has even been legislation passed this year in North Dakota and duly signed by the Governor defying the NCAA and requiring that the name “Fighting Sioux” be retained. A rationale has been presented claiming that the worst that could happen would be that UND couldn’t host any NCAA play-off games or wear their “Fighting Sioux” jerseys on TV. Come on, that’s not the point.

But it’s time. Time to move on. I recall moving to a small city in Iowa in 1992 that has a small Methodist affiliated college, Simpson College. I got to know the President of the school quite well and he told me the story of how the college had changed from a nickname of “Redmen” to “Storm” shortly after he became the President. He said that it was pushed through at the request of the NCAA and also because it just wasn’t consistent with the school’s Methodist heritage. And he also said that within 4 or 5 years by the time a new crop of freshmen had gone through the school that the new name would be part of the ongoing culture of the campus. And, interestingly, this was accomplished and alumni donations neither dried up nor went down.

I’ve always been proud to have attended college at the University of North Dakota. I’ve always been proud of the “Fighting Sioux” name and logo. But now, I’m actually getting a bit ashamed of it because of the never-ending controversy. I still have a “Fighting Sioux” license plate bracket on my car but will change it to a generic UND bracket. Here’s my bottom line:

I graduated from UND in 1973—38 years ago. I have never told anyone that I am a graduate of the University of Fighting Sioux. I’m a graduate of the University of North Dakota. It’s time to do the “right thing”.

Until then, here’s hoping UND goes on the ice tonight and kicks some serious University of Michigan ass.


  1. Unfortunately your opinions are muddled with incorrect facts that the media has fed to the rest of the world. I also am a UND alumni but from a more recent time. Though Ralph Engelstad certainly was a huge supporter of the Sioux nickname and he certainly did nothing to stop the "festooning" of logos and such, they were not his doing nor his request. Instead they were the work of the principle architect, the engineers, and the rest of the vendors involved in building the new arena. Every logo on the end of each row, cost him and the university nothing. The big Sioux heads in your chosen picture were also free. So please stop accepting the media's lies to drum up additional controversy as fact and spreading them without first questioning their motives for writing such things. Also the Sioux have only won 7 national titles. Not 8 as you claimed. Proof is in the National Title banner that you included in your blog post.

  2. I completely agree with Bryon. Walter, it sounds like you want to consider yourself a elitist intellectual and as such have bought into the lie. I believe the respect for the Sioux culture is demonstrated by the vast majority of supporters of the logo, nickname, and tradition. Please consider that holding up the name as a banner does not denigrate the Sioux nation, but really elevates their tradition and integrity as a people.