"One banner read 'Eat s--- Sioux.' Another showed the
geometric Sioux Indian head logo encircled in red ink with a line through the Sioux
logo. Easton said he must have heard the chants of 'F--- the Sioux' and 'Sioux s---'
500 times between them. With the game won, a new cheer was born in the NDSU student
section: 'F--- their women.'" 1997 Grand Forks Herald news
Send e-mail to UND president
History of the Fighting Sioux Name at UND
By Michael Saunders
The University of North Dakota has a long athletic tradition. Prior to1930, the school's
nickname was the "Flicker Tails." There is some disagreement, whether the name
referred to a bird or a small ground squirrel that is found on the northern plains. Either
way, the athletic teams didn't feel the name was fitting for the school's sport teams, so
the teams' used the unofficial name of "Nodaks" for North Dakotans.
During the 1930-31 school year, the student run newspaper, the Dakota
Student, received a letter from a student suggesting a name change for the school. The
letter recommended the name "Sioux" or "Fighting Sioux." The writer,
felt the name would inspire fear in the team's opponents. In addition, the writer said,
"That since the 'Sioux' had conquered the bison, the name would be good for the
teams." UND's arch-rival, North Dakota State University teams are the Bison. The two
schools are 85 miles apart and still have a strong competitive spirit.
This single letter sparked an ongoing debate within the pages of the Dakota Student.
Letters poured in that fall, many supporting the name and others opposed to it. Those
opposed felt the name was disgraceful, since "Indians" had never contributed
anything to the history of the State or the school. There were comments about the laziness
of "Indian" people. Other letters supporting the name, pointed to the savage and
warlike spirit of the "Sioux" and felt the name could instill pride in the
school's athletic teams.
In the fall of 1930 the school's Athletic Board officially change the name from Flicker
Tails to Fighting Sioux, citing the fact that the football team was already using the name
and the number of letters of support received for the change. There was never a mention of
honoring Native Americans with the change, but again a reference to the Bison at ND State.
Right away, the school's junior varsity teams became known as the "Papooses" and
a new student organization, calling itself the "Sioux Line Club," was formed.
The Sioux Line Club set up booths before every game and helped students paint their faces
with "traditional warpaint" and handed out feathers to fans.
Also, the school's homecoming dance, that year, was officially called the "First
Annual Pow-Wow." A small booklet was printed up with depiction of the school's
President and Vice-President's drawn with full headresses and caption which read
"Chief Whatyoucallit" and"Chief Runamuck."
It is important to note that in 1930 there were no Native American students attending UND.
It has been suggested that the first letter received by the Dakota Student was written by
a staff member of the paper, but I have found nothing to support or disprove the claim.
After the name change, a number of mascots sprung up on campus. A cartoon character,
called "Sammie Sioux" became an unofficial logo. The school food services
program began serving the "Sioux Burger" to name a few.
The name went unchallenged for years, largely because there were no Native Americans
attending the University. In the 60s a small group of students began to question the use
of the name, but opposition was small. In 1968 a group from the Standing rock Reservation
in North Dakota came to campus to perform a "ceremony" sanctioning the use of
the name. The group claimed to represent the tribal government, but no one among the group
sat on the tribal council.
In the 60s and early 70s the university's "Greek" houses sponsored a winter
festival in which each house created an ice sculpture for homecoming week. In 1972 one of
the houses created a sculpture of a topless, Native woman with a sign pointing to her bare
breast, saying, "Lick em Sioux". A Native American student found the sculpture
offensive and took an ax to it. A full scale riot broke out with members of the Greek
houses and Native students fighting each other. The Native student with the ax was the
only person arrested. The next day the university president, at the request of members of
AIM, dropped the charges against the Native student and banned the winter festival.
However, the school administration refused to change the name and wouldn't acknowledge
that the use of the name had any thing to do with the riot. But the protest against the
name had become vocal and continues to be vocal to this day.
By the 1990s over 300 Native students were attending the University and their continued
protest brought about many changes, the creation of an Indian Studies Department, a Native
Americans Programs office to aid Native Students, and the dropping of the Sammie Sioux
logo. The school continued to use the Blackhawk logo, made famous by the Chicago hockey
team and a geometric "Indian Head" logo.
In 1992 at the homecoming parade another event took place which enraged Native students
and started a new wave of protest. The University of North Dakota Indian Association, the
school's largest student organization, sponsored a float in the parade. Native women and
children were on the float, wearing traditional dress and pow-wow regalia. Members of two
floats, sponsored by Greek houses began to mock the Native women and children in the
staging area of the parade. Things like, "Squaws go back to the reservation where you
belong." were spoken and the children were taunted and told they looked funny wearing
feathers. A high school band began playing the Washington Redskin fight song and the
"tomahawk chop" was performed by members of other floats.
The Native women filed official charges of harassment with the Dean of Students office and
a group of students came together to demand a name change. The University had a new
president and he, after much discussion and despite a tribal resolution from the Standing
Rock Tribe to change the name, refused to do so. The school did discontinue the use of the
Blackhawk logo, but that might have been because the Chicago Hockey club was considering
charging the university for its use.
Today, Native students are still pressing for a name change. There have been many changes,
brought about by the continuing efforts of the Native students at the university. Today
there are over 30 programs and services for the Native student population. But, as long as
the name continues, there will be an atmosphere of harassment toward the Native student
Michael Saunders is an alumnus of the University of North Dakota.