Sioux Claim Rights Violations, Sue NCAA

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Native Americans in North Dakota are claiming their rights have been violated - not by the University of North Dakota and its use of Fighting Sioux as the school's nickname, but rather by the NCAA, which they claim has left them out of the nickname debate.

According to the Grand Forks Herald, attorneys representing the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe and nickname supporters at Standing Rock filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court, claiming the NCAA's efforts to force retirement of the UND name and logo "violate Native American civil rights, equal protection rights and religious rights."

"Obviously, the Native Americans felt slighted by all of this," North Dakota house majority leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) told the paper. "The NCAA turning a deaf ear to them is not a good thing, and the people the NCAA thought they were helping are people who feel they're being discriminated against."

Carlson had shepherded a law through the Legislature's regular 2011 session mandating the university's continued use of the Sioux nickname. That law could face repeal as early as Monday, as a special session will be held to discuss it and other state matters. Carlson had expected a repeal vote to pass, but says the new lawsuit holds the potential to change the outcome.

UND ended its own lawsuit against the NCAA in 2007, agreeing to retire the name if it failed to gain tribal support. Sioux attorneys now claim that the settlement is invalid since tribes were not directly involved in the debate. NCAA spokesperson Erik Christianson responded to the latest lawsuit with a one-sentence e-mail to the Herald, reiterating the association's position on Native American mascot use: "Our policy only applies to NCAA championships, which is within our jurisdiction to regulate."

If it were to retain the nickname, UND would be ineligible to host NCAA-sponsored post-season events. But dropping the name also has its price. In a recent Associated Press report, university president Robert Kelley estimates that such a change could cost the university nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in new logo development and uniform, facility, website and stationery updates. That figure does not include alterations to Ralph Englestad Arena, the privately owned home of UND ice hockey.

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