The latest of these battles is taking place at the University of North Dakota, where the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is threatening to ban the school from participating in post-season athletics because its Fighting Sioux mascot violates the organization’s rules against mascots “deemed hostile or abusive toward Native Americans.” As the Associated Press reports, the struggle between the NCAA and the university reignited after, in an effort to help the school avoid sanctions, “a law requiring the school to use its longtime nickname and logo (was) repealed eight months after it took effect last year.” However, “ardent nickname supporters filed petitions with more than 17,000 signatures demanding that the issue be put to a statewide vote” — and those petitions put the law back in effect until state voters cast their ballots on the issue.
Native Network News notes that other schools with Native-American-themed names “including the Florida State Seminoles and the Central Michigan University Chippewas [have] avoided NCAA sanctions by gaining the support of area tribes in their states and continue to use their nicknames and imagery.” However, the NCAA is swinging into action because “the University of North Dakota was unable to gain the support of all the Sioux tribes in North Dakota.” Indeed, a number of tribal organizations in North Dakota have come out decisively against the Fighting Sioux iconography and survey data of students at UND — which has a comparatively high Native American enrollment — found that a “majority of Native American and a minority of white students thought that the nickname conveyed disrespect and argued for change.” As the Iowa State Daily reports, “many of the American Indian students who attend the University of North Dakota have become increasingly frustrated with the mascot and want to see it removed.”
“The passing of the law [forcing the school to have the mascot] infringes on [Native Americans’] right to a fair education and reinforces an unwanted stereotype, and the name [Fighting Sioux] gives people a chance to offend others,” said UND professor of Indian Studies Sebastian Braun said.
Each of the three standard arguments used to brush off such substantive criticism is more inane than the next. Let’s debunk them one at a time: