Offensive mascot Fighting Sioux retired despite protests

Fighting Sioux mascot retired
Fighting Sioux mascot retired

Now that the University of North Dakota has announced that it will retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, the question remains--what happens to all that school merchandise with the banished logo?

The logo, which depicts a Native American, was targeted by the NCAA, which called the logo "hostile and offensive." But try telling that to the crowds that flocked to local sporting goods stores and school bookstores to buy up what could be the last supply of the Fighting Sioux logo, as reported by the the Grand Forks Herald.

The army of people buying up Sioux-branded gear doesn't come as a surprise when taking a look at the Facebook groups supporting the logo-- "No more Fighting Sioux = No more Alumni donations to UND," "Long Live the Fighting Sioux," and "Fighting Sioux Forever" all boast large fan bases. WDAY in Fargo reported that 300 people marched in protest of the name change. There's even a YouTube video making the rounds of a particularly unhappy little boy. (Presumably none of these groups include, or consulted, any Native Americans.)

So if these UND students and alumni are buying merchandise with the old logo, will they eventually come around and buy jerseys with the new, as-of-yet undecided mascot? Brandon McFall, creator of the "Long Live the Fighting Sioux" Facebook page (which has more than 5,000 supporters), said he certainly won't.

"I do know a lot of people, including myself, that won't touch any new apparel the teams will have," McFall told Money College in a statement.

But for some Native American students, the logo represents the hostility they face when classmates find out they're opposed to it. Courtney Davis, a senior and Business Management major at UND, is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in Belcourt, N.D. She said that even since the school decided to retire the nickname and logo on April 8, things haven't been easy.

"It's tough being here right now," Davis said in an interview with Money College. "I didn't even go into class [the day the name was retired] because everybody on campus was wearing their Fighting Sioux logo everywhere, and I felt uncomfortable."

Davis said the logo debate has caused her to "cut ties" with friends and colleagues and has been the springboard for racial hostility. However, McFall said the logo doesn't represent racism, but history.

"The Sioux Indian tribe would not have gotten its name if it wasn't for the white man coming," he said in a statement. "We named them the Sioux, and to try and honor them for being heroic and trying to defend their land at the time, we named the team the Fighting Sioux. I really wouldn't think if there was a team called the Fighting Patriots, anybody would find it offensive."

Eric Hamley, a Native American student who started the Facebook group "Fighting Intolerance on the Retirement of the Fighting Sioux Name", said that the stigma attached to being Indian faced him right when he moved to Grand Forks, N.D., to attend UND.

"I created this group back in 2006, and it was to have a voice for people who didn't see it as honoring native people," Hamley said in a Money College interview. "And when I got here, it became more and more obvious how hostile people were about it. One of my first nights out here, I met a girl who found out I was Indian, and just swore at me all night and started crying."

Like Davis, Hamley said the day the school retired the nickname, the campus was flanked by green shirts and the local bars were offering specials to people wearing the logo. He also avoided going to class that day, citing "childish behavior" as the reason why.

Currently, as the Grand Forks Herald and Examiner report, the local sports shops will continue to stock Fighting Sioux gear as long as it's still licensed by the university. But if and when a new team nickname and logo arrives, will people buy new stuff? Many pro-logo students and alumni, including McFall, say they won't. But Hamley said that "of course" students will adapt to a new logo.

"Perhaps it's a glass half-full kind of thing," he said.

Other schools around the country have faced the same controversy over getting rid of a Native American mascot. Famously, the University of Illinois decided to retire the mascot Chief Illiniwek in 2007 (when he danced for the last time), which sparked a similar debate of tradition vs. racism. Currently, the university has no mascot.

But even Grand Forks has a history of retiring a Native American mascot. A local high school, Grand Forks Central High School, replaced their mascot the Redskins with the Knights in 1992. Although there was controversy at first, things have calmed down.

"I see them walking around with their Knight gear on now," Davis said. "Obviously, people have reacted to it well."

For the moment, the logo issue has given UND a tense atmosphere. Only time will tell what the new logo will be and how the students and alumni will adapt to it.