My name is Keely Thomas. I am a member of the Onondaga Nation from the Iroquois Confederacy. I attended school at the University of North Dakota for 18 months. Never in my life have I experienced such blatant racism.
I met some very dear people who I'm sure will remain friends for many years, both native and non-native. But I also saw first hand the ugliness of condescension towards and outright hatred of Native people. When I first arrived at UND I was shocked to learn that the Native students had been trying to change the logo for over 30 years. I couldn't imagine what would take so long to change a logo at a university. You see, I live near Syracuse University. It is quite a bit bigger than UND and quite well-know for many of their sports teams, not just ones.
Back in the 70's, some native students rallied to change S.U.'s logo. At the time they were called the Syracuse Saltine Warriors. Headed up by students and former students alike, they convinced the university administration how derogatory and defamatory this Indian mascot was. The students had the support of our traditional government as well.
I realize that some of the logo supporters cite the financial expense as a reason to not change it. Yet despite being in the top of their division consistently in basketball, football, lacrosse, and various other sports, Syracuse University was able to change the logo out of respect for their students, the Native Americans and the community.
So it was a shock really to see UND refusing to budge and see this struggle carry on for such a long time. As I traveled around North Dakota I soon realized this whole demeaning attitude towards Native Americans is carried throughout the whole state. From shoddy service in restaurants to cops with a grudge against Native peoples, it is generally accepted that you can treat us any way you want.
It was with great sadness that I read the announcement that the UND Logo would stay. A man with a zeal for Hitler and some big dollar contributions could continue to dishonor and disrespect my people all in the name of sports. It wasn't a surprise however. I don't blame only the Higher Education School Board though. I place part of the responsibility on President Kupchella's shoulders. When he first came to UND he spoke with Native students in his "fireside chat" and told us he would educate himself on this issue. Knowing that he had come from another university where this SAME issue was dealt with, I didn't understand then why it took so long to educate himself. I don't understand it still yet. He stalled, he skirted the issue but he did not educate himself. For if he had truly educated himself, he would have seen the harm this logo perpetuates.
The University of North Dakota is the main educational institution in the state. If they refuse to listen and respect Native people, why on earth would anyone else. I told President Kupchella at that fireside chat that he had an opportunity before him to help North Dakota come into the 21st Century. He had the chance to be a part of changing attitudes towards my people. But for the almighty dollar he failed the administration, the state, the community and most importantly, he failed his students. For speaking my mind I was harrassed at home, on campus and in the community. As a single mother of three children, I have never felt so vulnerable as I did in Grand Forks.
Chaos reigns supreme at the University of North Dakota. That is why I left and chose to attend Syracuse University. I could no longer bear the racism at the school, in the town of Grand Forks and the state in whole. My children will have to learn to deal with racism soon enough. But I refuse to put their lives or my own at risk in a state and at a university that tolerates such ignorance.