On the eve of a meeting with NCAA officials over the use of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname, North Dakota officials found themselves defendants in a lawsuit over the same issue.
A group of eight Native American students at UND filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to prevent further use of the school's Fighting Sioux imagery and logo.
The complaint names Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, the state of North Dakota, the state's Board of Higher Education and UND in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Bismarck. A statement from the students' attorney, Sanford Dumain of the New York law firm Milberg LLP, says the parties are being sued for their actions in connection with the North Dakota Legislature's passage of a law mandating the use of the controversial nickname and logo. The law went into effect on Aug. 1.
The lawsuit was filed a day before Dalrymple, Stenehjem and others plan to meet with NCAA officials in Indianapolis to discuss the use of the Fighting Sioux nickname.
About 20 schools with Native American nicknames were targeted by an NCAA policy issued in August 2005. Some teams, like the Florida State Seminoles, were taken off the list when they received approval from namesake tribes. The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe approved use of the nickname, but the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has neither approved nor disapproved of it.
North Dakota's debate appeared to be resolved when the state Board of Higher Education agreed in 2009 to drop the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname, and UND agreed to phase them out by Aug. 15.
But the argument ramped up again when state legislators passed the law requiring the state to maintain the nickname and sue the NCAA over the issue if necessary. The NCAA has shown no inclination to allow UND to use the Fighting Sioux nickname since the law was passed, but a contingent of state officials still hopes to persuade the group to allow use of the nickname.
The NCAA sanctions for using the nickname and logo include a ban on UND hosting any postseason tournaments, and a prohibition on UND teams wearing the nickname or logo on uniforms during postseason play. The Big Sky Conference, which UND hopes to join next year, has said the issue will complicate the school's conference membership.
The eight students named in the lawsuit are not members of the two Sioux tribes in North Dakota, though one, Amber Annis, is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe. The other plaintiffs are Lisa Casarez, a member of Three Affiliated Tribes; William Crawford, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe; Franklin Sage, a member of the Navajo Nation; Sierra Davis, a member of Three Affiliated Tribes; Robert Rainbow, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa; Margaret Scott, a member of the Spokane tribe; and Janie Schroeder, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
Their complaint alleges the law passed during the legislative session violates the state Constitution, because the Board of Higher Education is supposed to make such decisions rather than the Legislature, and violates a court-ordered settlement, directing the name be changed, which was reached by the NCAA, the state and the Board of Higher Education. The students also allege the new law violates their 14th Amendment rights in that the name and logo are harmful and disparaging to Native Americans.
The students are seeking an injunction from the Board of Higher Education and UND to comply with the NCAA settlement by retiring the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo by Monday and a court order keeping the defendants from enforcing the legislation that went into effect on Aug. 1.
The complaint says the students feel singled out in class and at sporting events due to the nickname and have been subject to ridicule, racism and discriminatory treatment related to it.
Jody Link, a spokesperson for Dalrymple, said the governor's office had not been served with the lawsuit as of Thursday afternoon. Grant Shaft, president of the Board of Higher Education, said he was not sure if the board had been served with the lawsuit, but he had not reviewed the suit. He anticipated that the board would be able to comment on the litigation next week.
Shaft is part of the North Dakota delegation heading to Indianapolis for today's meeting with the NCAA. He believes the meeting will last about an hour. He does not know if the new lawsuit will play a role in the talks.
Assistant Attorney General Tom Trenbeath said his office had not been served by Thursday afternoon but had read the lawsuit. Though the attorneys have not analyzed the complaint thoroughly, they believe the matter may be better suited for state court than federal court. He believes the lawsuit may be mentioned at today's meeting with the NCAA, if not discussed.
(Reach reporter Jenny Michael at 250-8225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)