February 22, 2016

The Fighting Sioux Nickname/Logo


The Fighting Sioux name has been used by the University of North Dakota (UND) since 1930. Around 1970, Native people began to question the appropriateness of the nickname and logo. Since then, several surveys inquiring about a name change have indicated the majority of the student body and alumni want to keep the name and logo, but Native American students, and the majority of faculty are in favor of a name change.


Because of this, previous university presidents, officials, and the current president have debated the issue and promoted university policies to support cultural diversity and cultural sensitivity toward Native American students.

In recent years, controversial decisions were made regarding the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. For example, in 2001 the
North Dakota State Board of Higher Education preempted the current UND president’s (Charles Kupchella) decision to form a commission and seriously consider a name change.

It was decided to keep the Fighting Sioux Nickname and adopt a new logo that is similar to the Chicago Black Hawk logo. More controversy followed.

It was suggested the decision was based on financing of the new Engelstad Arena when a letter from Ralph Engelstad surfaced indicating threatened withdrawal of the $100 million in funding. Local Native leaders also pointed to the new logo, saying it is not representative of the Lakota/Sioux Nation.

There have been numerous protests against its use by a number of Native American students, some faculty, and non-Indian students who find the name and logo offensive.

In addition, a history of racial incidents on the UND campus has occurred in relation to the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. For example, banners were found hanging in Merrifield Hall with statements “If the name has to go, so should your funding” in bold letters, and “go back to the Rez, or work at the casino PRAIRIE NIGGA”.

The second banner carried a similar message (Bridges, 2003). Incidents like these suggest a hostile environment and atmosphere for Native Americans on the UND campus and speak to the effects of stereotypes towards groups.

The use of the Fighting Sioux name and logo by UND is a very controversial issue. It has been controversial because Native populations and opponents of Native mascots have argued that it promotes prejudice, discrimination, and racism against Native peoples.

Another argument has been that it creates a hostile environment at UND for Native students. Proponents of the Fighting Sioux name and logo have argued they support and honor Native peoples by the use of the Fighting Sioux name and logo and that there is no negative impact on the Native community, particularly at UND.

As both sides have argued the issue, the true effects and impact of the Fighting Sioux name and logo have become clouded in emotion and anecdotal accounts. A study was the first attempt to provide an objective empirical, quantitative data on what the impact may be on Native students at UND.

The data from this study provides objective evidence that Native students are subjected to more prejudice and discrimination, and that prejudice and discrimination varies in relation to the Fighting Sioux name and logo. In other words, Native students are not automatically valued, honored, and respected on the UND campus, as the proponents of the Fighting Sioux name/logo suggests, because Native students automatically receive more prejudice and discrimination just for being Native.

In order for a Native student to be valued, honored, and respected, the Native student has to endorse the Fighting Sioux name/logo. In addition, the White student who opposes the Fighting Sioux name/logo is still valued more than the Native student is. That is racism.

Based on these data, the continued use of the Fighting Sioux name and logo indicates that the University of North Dakota is engaging in and promoting institutional discrimination and racism. Given that, does UND want to continue to promote and engage in racism and discrimination? Is UND truly honoring Native people when the Native student is subjected to social injustice on their own campus?

Furthermore, are sport team names more important that the civil rights of one group? These are only a few questions
that result from these data.

The implications reach beyond UND. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has issues a statement denouncing the use of Native American
nicknames and mascots. This data should bolster their statement as it empirically demonstrates a negative effect.

Other colleges, universities, and professional sport teams need to ask the same question, if they want to engage in and promote racism. The
implications for the Native community are even more serious. Does one risk prejudice and discrimination by voicing opposition to the Fighting Sioux name and logo? How does a Native individual ensure their safety on the UND campus when there is a culture that promotes racism?

As with any study, limitations can apply. The limitations in this study include sample size andcharacteristics. Although diverse in academic major, the majority of the sample was freshman and sophomore standing. Given that junior and senior level students may have engaged in less social injustices, having more upper level and graduate students in the sample will increase the external validity.

Related to the external validity is the research design. Conducting experiments in a “lab” setting on psychosocial phenomenon has its drawbacks.
The opportunity for confounding variables always arises (i.e. Hawthorne effect). Because the Fighting Sioux name and logo is so controversial, student reactions can vary rapidly depending on environmental circumstances.

One limitation is that student responses could vary at another point in time. For example, student responses may be polarized in different directions during Time Out and Wacipi week at UND or when a highly publicized protest is occurring.

More studies need to occur concerning the effects of the Fighting Sioux controversy. For example, future studies need to further identity student characteristics that influence their reactions to Native students. What is it about the upper level students that resulted in less prejudice and discrimination of the Native confederate? Are there any gender effects? Would a female confederate who is Native receive similar prejudice and discrimination?

As suggested above, future studies need to consider collecting data at different points in time to determine any environmental effects. Finally, future studies may also include looking at the impact in the greater Grand Forks and North Dakota communities.


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