November 6, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Sioux Fans Moving On

Nickname is Gone, But Passion in Team Still High

by Annie Maroon/CHN Reporter

At the end of the national anthem at Ralph Engelstad Arena, North Dakota fans still do what they’ve done for years: with one booming voice, they declare this not just the home of the brave, but the home ... of the ... Sioux.

A banner above the stands behind one goal announces, “You’re in Sioux Country,” and the Fighting Sioux logo, although UND has retired it from their jerseys, still adorns everything from the arena gates to the tile floors of the concourses.

Although about 68 percent of North Dakota residents voted to retire the university’s Fighting Sioux nickname in June, it’s been a slow, strange transition away from tradition for North Dakota fans. Mikey Senay, a UND hockey fan who moved from Brooklyn, N.Y. to Grand Forks 13 years ago, said there was no use fighting the change any longer.

“I think it was time,” he said. “I think the more educated fans understood that.”

Senay said the NCAA sanctions against UND teams – barring the school from hosting playoff games, prohibiting UND team photos from NCAA tournament programs because the team was wearing the Sioux jerseys – outweighed the benefits of keeping the nickname. However, he said many North Dakota fans felt the program was unfairly targeted by the NCAA.

“I think this wouldn’t have happened to a bigger school,” he said. “It was almost like the NCAA bullying a school that doesn’t have much money or influence.”

Stephanie Rogers, who attended UND last year and still lives in Grand Forks, voiced the same idea. She said she thought the university had shown more respect for the Sioux name than many collegiate and professional teams do for Native American team names, but that UND’s size and national profile made its case different from that of a school like Florida State.

“They are a bigger school, they have a bigger fanbase, just because they’re Florida and not North Dakota,” Rogers said. “And I think that [the NCAA] picked us as an example…We don’t have the pull to say no.”

The NCAA initially called for 18 schools to change their Native American-related names, and some have. Florida State was among the exceptions because they received the support of the Seminole Nation of Florida to keep their name. One of the two Sioux tribes in North Dakota was in full support of the university’s nickname, but the other opposed it, preventing UND from going the same way as Florida State.

Rogers, who wore a black Sioux jersey to UND’s game against Boston University on Saturday, said change will be slow for a community that’s called its hockey team the Sioux since 1930.

“We’re in the Midwest and people are very stubborn, and there is a strong emotional attachment to the name,” Rogers said. “But it has to be done to keep the athletics program alive, so I think people are now understanding that. That the popular vote went through – I think that shows that more people in North Dakota are rational than stubborn.”

North Dakota will not be allowed to adopt a new nickname and mascot until 2015, and Senay said he thinks that will help the new moniker stick when it is implemented.

“This is almost like a cooling-off period,” he said. “You get used to not seeing the Sioux logo around everywhere, and there’s sort of a bumper period.”

Even so, the name and image are deeply rooted in the community – as Senay pointed out, even North Dakota’s state highways feature an Indianhead logo. The nickname may be scrubbed from the official records, but it’s harder to erase from UND fans’ everyday vocabulary.

“I’d imagine it’d be five, ten years before anyone stops saying ‘the Sioux,’” Rogers said.”

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