Statement of Leah Manning Stetzner to Nickname Commission

Following is a statement read at the last Commission meeting by the president of the UND Alumni Foundation:

Statement of Leah Manning Stetzner presented to Commission considering the issue of "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo, August 21, 2000, UND Grand Forks, ND

Hello, I am Leah Manning Stetzner, originally from Hettinger and one of nine children, five of whom attended UND. I received a Bachelors Degree at UND from the Honors Program with Emphasis in History, and a Masters Degree in German, also from UND. I subsequently became a lawyer and have spent the last 25 years working as a corporate attorney in transportation and energy companies. I am president of the UND Alumni Association, but the following comments reflect strictly my own personal views.

I mention my education and work background because they provided awareness, both of the value of inclusiveness and the power of words. Right, now, however, I want you to forget words and concentrate on an image. Please, if you will, imagine two people standing here next to me, shoulder to shoulder. The third person from me was born in 1850. The one right beside me was born in 1900, and I in 1950 (or thereabouts).

Please picture the three of us, so close that our life-spans literally overlap, and then consider this. The oldest person in this chain of human beings lived in a society in which African Americans were enslaved, when many Americans believed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian and this was government policy. The person right next to me, if American lived during the era of lynchings, and if European, lived at a time in which thousands of ordinary people murdered millions of their neighbors and fellow citizens because of ethnic hatreds and a lust for their belongings. In many countries, ethnic intolerance continues to ruin economies and make a nightmare of daily life.

Yet here we are today, trying to do the right thing in the matter of the Fighting Sioux nickname. I can only say that we have come a long way in the right direction. A year ago we collectively grieved over the killing of students at Columbine High School, and worried about how such a thing could occur. Yet, it was only a little over a hundred years ago that many more Indian men, women and children were massacred by the U.S. Army. Now contrast this to the image of American soldiers (many of them Indian) liberating Europe and Asia during World War II. Civilians in all these World War II-ravaged countries saw American soldiers as good, decent, generous and kind. This is how I see the majority of Americans today, thanks, perhaps more than we realize, to the example set by those soldiers' heroism and selflessness.

Concern about whether the Sioux nickname is degrading, stems from the same basic desire to do right by people, especially those who have been exceptionally wronged. I am not saying that use of the Fighting Sioux nickname is comparable to intolerance or these tragedies of the past but, rather, that this whole discussion reflects our best instincts as human beings, and how relatively minor our problems have become.

There are those who think changing the name is simply going too far, but the line between appropriate sensitivity, and political correctness run amok, will be different for every person in this room. President Kupchella and this Commission are doing everything possible to make the best decision, and while I believe complete deference is owed to the Indian viewpoint on this issue, there may be diversity of views there as well. Yet, whatever the outcome, I hope we continue this remarkable progress toward inclusion.

We cannot change the past, but we can change a nickname if it is a painful reminder of history, aspects of which we nearly all wish had been different. For those to whom the name Fighting Sioux is a reminder of all things positive, those positives will survive, in living memory, in ongoing loyalty, and in everything that continues at UND today. To quote another: "A rose, by any other name, still smells as sweet." Better yet, a new name could herald other momentous changes and new beginnings for UND, for the state, for all of us.

Thank you for allowing me to make this statement.

Leah Manning Stetzner
2940 Olympia Drive
Decatur, IL 62521