In a referendum that got surprisingly little national attention, the residents of North Dakota have given their state university permission to drop its "Fighting Sioux" mascot. Two-thirds of voters supported a measure yesterday that leaves in place a legislative bill letting UND drop the nickname and find something else. The measure had been put on the ballot by staunch defenders of the mascot as a last ditch effort to "Save the Sioux".
While the mascot defenders may cry foul today and bemoan the further encroachment of political correctness in our society--the time has come for them to also accept defeat. This directive to drop the "Fightnig Sioux" name didn't come from the NCAA, from a University President, from a self-appointed faculty committee, from self-appointed experts on "the social and psychological effects of Native American mascots on Indigenous Peoples", from a campus activist group, or from a single-party majority of the State Legislature. This time the directive came--loudly and clearly--from The People. How many other schools never got this opportunity to hear directly from those who actually "own it"?
Does that mean North Dakotans buy into the PC line about Indian mascots? Probably not. They are more likely just fed up with the amount of time, effort and money tied up in the non-stop debate over the issue. Tuesday's vote shows that regardless of how they feel about the team nickname, they are ready to move on to more pressing issues.
The vote is a double-edged sword for the University of North Dakota itself. On the one hand, the "team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux" can once again host NCAA playoff and championship games. The school bookstore will see a run on anything bearing the beautiful Indianhead mascot--and the subsequent "student approved" logo after that. And the never-ending legal fees will finally stop. But on the other hand, the change will also carry a huge cost.
Ralph Englestad arena--like the Kohl Center in Madison--was a gift to the University from a very wealthy donor who wanted his name on it. Ralph was also a huge supporter of the Sioux nickname--so much so that it was rumored that if the university ever changed it, he would take his building back and not let the school use it anymore. He also went to great expense to make sure that the Indianhead logo is EVERYWHERE in the arena. It's carved into the exterior facade. It's imprinted on the interior walls. It is inlaid in all the floors on the concourse. And every row of seats features cast images of the Sioux logo on both ends. I've never seen a cost estimate on what it will take to remove all of the Indianheads--but I'm guessing it will be in the millions.
Supporters of the Sioux mascot may have reached their "Little Big Horn" (okay--wrong state)--but it appears their opponents will be celebrating a Pirrhyc Victory.