Saturday, October 27, 2007

NCAA "settles" with North Dakota

University of North Dakota has been in negotiations with the NCAA over their use of the "Fighting Sioux" mascot since 2005. The NCAA has mandated that institutions with offensive Native American mascots not be allowed to compete in postseason play. It has worked with schools where such problems existed and made decisions on a case-by-case basis. For example, the Tribe of William and Mary was allowed to keep its nickname, Tribe, but had to get rid of the two feathers that served as the logo. W&M was none too pleased with this decision but opted not to contest the NCAA decision through a potentially lengthy and expensive legal process. UND was not so willing to comply when the NCAA said they could not use "Fighting Sioux" in postseason play. It sued the NCAA a year ago and got a temporary order allowing them to continue using the name throughout court proceedings. Yesterday it was announced that a settlement had been reached between the parties.
The NCAA has given UND three years to get tribal approval for the nickname. This is a very odd "solution" in my mind--not knowing, of course, what has gone on behind the scenes nor what kind of legal ground either party was standing on. Still, given that several Sioux tribes have said, on the record, that they oppose the nickname, it seems that UND is taking a risk. But they could also be confident that if they throw enough money at the tribes, a la the Florida Seminoles, the Sioux, or enough of the Sioux, will acquiesce. I hope 1) that this does not happen; 2) that there are very strict rules governing how UND will "convince" the Sioux so as to prevent an all-out, no-holds-barred campaign; and 3) that no one fails to remember that pressuring an oppressed minority group to give in to powerful and emotionally charged lobbying isn't really a fair fight. I am disappointed that the NCAA agreed to (or perhaps even suggested--we don't know because the negotiations were closed) the deal. They may recognize the harm in the nicknames, logos, and mascots, but they do not appear to be aware of long history of damage and oppression done to American Indians that has resulted in the erasure of their history from the country's collective memory and the larger discrimination they face because of this. And that mandating the removal of offensive nicknames and imagery may be a step in the right direction but not a remedy for years of and ongoing ignorance on the issue of American Indians' rights.

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