Thursday, November 3, 2011

University Friends Sue NCAA for Right to Keep Name

By: Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., INFORUM

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. – Supporters of the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo at the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the NCAA in U.S. District Court in Fargo, following through on their promise to ramp up the fight to save the nickname.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Spirit Lake Tribe and Archie Fool Bear, individually and as representative of Standing Rock petitioners who sought a reservation-wide referendum on the nickname issue, alleges the NCAA’s efforts to force retirement of the name and logo “violate Native American Civil rights, equal protection rights and religious rights.”

The 2007 settlement agreement that ended UND’s suit against the NCAA, in which UND agreed to drop the Sioux name if it failed to win namesake approval from both tribes, is not a valid settlement because the tribes were not directly involved, said Reed Soderstrom, a Minot attorney representing the Spirit Lake Committee for Understanding and Respect.

“If it was (a valid settlement), the NCAA breached it” by refusing to talk with tribal representatives, he said.

Soderstrom said the court “is not scheduling anything until sometime into 2013,” so “this will not be a quick and easy thing.”

But “this is a case we believe we can win,” he said.

There was no immediate response from the NCAA, which in the past has said only that it stands by the 2007 agreement and expects UND – as of Aug. 15 on NCAA sanctions – to drop the name and logo.

Though it is unlikely the lawsuit would be scheduled for trial for a year or more, Tuesday’s filing also asked for an immediate injunction “prohibiting the NCAA from taking any actions or implementing any policies against UND or its use of the ‘Sioux’ or ‘Fighting Sioux’ names.”

Soderstrom said the injunction request “is not high on my to-do list” because of the law adopted by the 2011 North Dakota Legislature mandating UND’s continued use of the Fighting Sioux name and logo.

However, lawmakers are set to review the nickname issue during a special session next week, and indications are that a bill to repeal the law will be introduced and is likely to pass.

“We’re asking them not to” repeal the law, Soderstrom said. “We’re asking the whole state of North Dakota to get behind us” and resist a repeal effort.

“It’s the law,” he said. “But if the Legislature does something that I can’t live with, then we’ll move as fast as we can with the injunction.”

Grant Shaft, president of the state Board of Higher Education, said he had not had a chance to review the filing, but “I don’t think the suit will have any impact on actions the board has taken to this date or any action the Legislature may take next week.”

He said he doesn’t expect the board to alter the course it set in August when it directed UND to begin preparing for a transition away from the nickname and logo, a transition that should be substantially complete by the end of the year.

Nor did he think the Legislature would decide against repealing the nickname mandate because of the lawsuit. He noted that House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, author of the nickname bill passed earlier this year, has said he expects a repeal bill will pass in the special session.

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