Anonymous Alum makes claims, Alvin White debunks

The following is an article posted to the President's Forum on UND's web page by a UND alum. It is followed by a written response from UND student Alvin White.

   

Dear Dr. Kupchella and Nickname Committee:

I am an alumnus of the University of North Dakota, so is my wife, my brother, and most of my friends. The four years I spent there are among the best in my life. In my professional life I have met and worked with alumni of other (supposedly) more nationally known and recognized institutions. I have never felt that the education I received at UND put me at any disadvantage. In other words, I am extremely proud of the University of North Dakota, and I am extremely proud to be one of its alumni.

The Sioux Nations also have an extremely proud history. The Sioux were the tribe that the Lewis and Clark expedition worried about most. They were feared and respected by not only 'white' settlers, but also by all of their neighboring tribes. They were among the last to be forced onto 'reservations'; a misguided government policy to say the least. The fact that the University of North Dakota is known as the Fighting Sioux does nothing but reflect well on the university and the Sioux Nations.

Some have argued that the use of the word 'Sioux' is in itself derogatory. If that is true then why do many of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people use this to identify themselves and their businesses?

Some have argued that the name of any ethnic group or subgroup should be banned for use by athletic teams. Then why do schools on Sioux 'reservations' make use of names such as 'Warriors' or 'Braves'?

It has been insinuated by Mr. Taken Alive and others that Sioux tribal members cannot distinguish between UND athletic teams and themselves when fans of UND's opponents make disparaging comments towards the Sioux. Such comments insult the intelligence of not only Sioux tribal members, but also those of us that are pro nickname. Those of Scandinavian descent (of which I am one) do not have any trouble recognizing the fact that Green Bay Packer fans' insults towards Vikings are not directed towards them but instead towards the Minnesota football team. Those of Irish descent are not confused when Michigan Wolverine fans make derogatory comments about Notre Dame University's football team. I have no doubt that Sioux tribal members are able to discriminate between the two as well. When these type of things are said by Mr. Taken Alive and his supporters, he and his cause start to lose credibility.

I have never seen the results of a survey that indicate that the use of the Sioux name by UND is opposed by a majority of Sioux tribal members in the state. I assume that if one did exist, it would have been brought to public attention by those who wish to have the name changed.

In a recent Grand Forks Herald article, Mr. Taken Alive 'said that the discussion about alumni support proved that the debate had boiled down to "the value of a culture" vs. money. "I'm glad that we've reached this juncture," he said, since it would allow him to tell people on the reservation, and the media, what the debate was now about.' He said this in response to a concern that a nickname change might dramatically reduce gifts to the university. Mr. Taken Alive, however, has not made a credible case showing how UND's use of the nickname has jeopardized Sioux culture. He repeatedly makes these ridiculous statements without being asked to defend them. Again, credibility becomes an issue.

The premier institution of higher learning in the state does not identify itself with a group because it thinks poorly of that group. To the contrary, it is a show of respect. To think otherwise is ludicrous. If one is bound and determined to take offense, nothing can be done to prevent it.

Incidents like the verbal abuse of children dressed in traditional garb at the 1992 Homecoming parade and the threatening of an Indian student's life in 1996 are sickening and have no place anywhere, especially at a public university. It has not been explained, however, how the existence of the Fighting Sioux nickname fostered these incidents nor has it been explained how changing the nickname will prevent these type of incidents in the future.

Those who are anti nickname have also argued that the university's continued use of 'Sioux' is counter to the flow of enlightened history. They claim that UND risks being remembered as a 'George Wallace'. I think that comparing the use of the 'Sioux' name by the university to someone who was arguing for the continued separation of races might be overstating it just a bit. How much credibility do the anti nicknamers have left?

I think I've done a pretty good job of showing that there is no real reason to support a name change. Why then do some wish to have it changed? It is always difficult to understand what motivates others. Some who support the name change unquestionably do it to garner attention to themselves and funding for their causes. By continuing to allow them to reopen the issue, the university is not giving them any disincentive to do otherwise.

I suggest that the university bring closure to the issue by doing the following:

1. Provide more funding for Indian programs at UND, perhaps out of some of Mr. Engelstad's recent generous donation.

2. Provide prominently displayed Sioux history and culture monuments, placards, and display cases throughout high traffic areas on campus, especially in the student union.

3. Bring back the 'Blackhawk' logo to the UND hockey uniforms.

4. Make it understood that retention of the Fighting Sioux moniker and associated logos is a permanent decision and official university policy. Reopening the issue by university faculty, staff, or employees will be regarded as a basis for dismissal from employment at the university.

I have two children and I plan to have both attend UND. I am also at a point in my life and career where I can start making fairly sizable charitable donations. I have been following the nickname issue closely. If the University of North Dakota ever changes its nickname from the 'Fighting Sioux' my children will be attending a different university and my charitable donations will go elsewhere. I hate to put it like that, but that is how strongly I feel about the situation. I did not want to have to write this letter. I had rather hoped that the whole thing would have been summarily dismissed, much like when a lawsuit without merit comes before the court.

'Fight on Sioux'

 


This is Alvin White's response:

 

RE: Fight on Sioux

Mr. Alumnus raises issues that have been answered time and again. The answers to most of his arguments can be viewed on the B.R.I.D.G.E.S. web page at http://www.und.edu/org/span/bridges/index2.html. The attitude displayed in his missive is one reason so many supporters of the name change give up. Talking to someone with a closed mind is the same as banging ones head against a brick wall. Luckily, I have a thick skull, so I continue to try.

If you call someone "stupid" long enough, they will begin to question whether or not they are stupid. If you call someone "Sioux" long enough, they will begin to question whether or not they are Sioux. This was not always the case. If one asks an elder their band affiliation, they may reply Sicangu, Teton, or Oglala. Few, if any, of them would reply "Sioux." Sadly, there are some students who claim the blood, but who do not know their ancestry. To them, Sioux is not a bad word. It is merely a descriptive term for the collective Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations. Fortunately, many students here know the distinction and make a point of enlightening others to the negative connotation the word carries.

The answer to the second argument can be found on the B.R.I.D.G.E.S. website. I would ask others who wish to continue this discussion to consult that page before presenting an argument that has already been answered.

I will not speak for Mr. Taken Alive, but while adults can distinguish between team criticism and veiled racism, their children cannot. Listening to a throng of emotional adults enraptured in a fanatical (from where the word fan is derived) frenzy hurling epithets against what one identifies as ones culture is psychologically damaging. You don't have to take my word for it, however. The NAACP has also come to the same conclusion.

I do not know of any survey. What I do know is that the Standing Rock, Sisseton-Wahpeton, Oglala, Rosebud, Yankton, Crow Creek, and Cheyenne River Tribes have all passed tribal resolutions calling for an end to the use of the term "Fighting Sioux." The resolutions of tribal governments are the voice of their respective peoples. Let these voices be heard.

Trivializing a living culture to the status of mascot gives no respect to that culture and gives the impression it is dead or unimportant. Those impressions are what jeopardize the continued existence of the culture.

Again, this assertion of "respect" has been answered by B.R.I.D.G.E.S. I am sure the slave master "respected" his slave's ability when he referred to him as his "best buck", also.

By relegating a culture to the status of mascot it is a small step in a small mind to relegate a cultures beliefs and identity to that which can be mocked. While changing the nickname may not change these attitudes, it will make the statement to the nation and to the world that the University of North Dakota respects the collective wishes of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota nations.

I will have to concede Mr. Alumnus' point. It is difficult to understand what motivates others. In fact, I find it difficult to understand why a university should "give disincentive to reopen the issue?" A university is a place to foster open thought. Yet, Mr. Alumnus seems to argue it should not be.

I can wholeheartedly support points one and two. Monetary and educational support is necessary for continued cultural understanding on both sides. Point three is stepping backward toward the future. Caricatures are wrong and have no place in an enlightened society. Point four is blatant fascism. No other response is necessary.

I think the conclusion sums up Mr. Alumnus' position very nicely. The threat. Do as I wish, or else. This seems to be the very fear of many who support this institution. If outdated attitudes are not allowed to prevail, the university will suffer financially. I do believe it will be a consequence when the name is changed. I also believe it is pathetic to tie ones self-esteem and pride to something one can never be a part of or truly understand. The culture Mr. Alumnus tries so desperately to be a part of through name association is a culture built upon respect. If he would respect the culture as he claims to do, he would support the name change and get on with his life.