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UND committee questions Engelstad Arena lobbying to retain Fighting Sioux nickname

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Lobbying by the Ralph Engelstad Arena to retain the Fighting Sioux nickname subverts other efforts to resolve the issue, according to a University of North Dakota committee.

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UND English professor Sharon Carson, representing the Campus Committee for Human Rights, wrote a letter last month raising concerns about meetings arena employees have held with tribal members.

"The key problem right now is that (the arena) is seen by many off campus and outside of Grand Forks as representing UND and/or the state Board," Carson wrote in the letter to Chancellor Bill Goetz and President Bob Kelley.

The appointment of Jody Hodgson, general manager of the arena, to a committee studying the nickname adds to the confusion, Carson wrote.

Hodgson said arena employees have been communicating with tribal members about the nickname issue, but are careful to only represent themselves as employees of the arena.

"We certainly don't represent the University of North Dakota, nor do we have the power or the position in which to bind the University of North Dakota," Hodgson said.

Arena employees held a meeting in January at the Prairie Knights Casino on the Standing Rock reservation that was open to the tribal council and some veterans.

In a letter written by Hodgson, the purpose was to share information about the availability of scholarship programs for Native American students at UND.

Tom Iron, a former Standing Rock vice chairman who is on the nickname committee, helped facilitate the meeting. Iron was not paid, Hodgson said.

The arena hired Cheyenne River Sioux member Sam Dupris of Minneapolis to meet with Sioux officials in North Dakota. Dupris is continuing that work, Hodgson said.

Chancellor Bill Goetz said he has heard "bits and pieces" about the meetings organized by arena employees, but he has not sought out information about the activities.

Goetz said Hodgson is on the committee not to represent the arena, but to represent the Engelstad Family Foundation.

"They have a direct interest in this issue," Goetz said. "All parties that have a direct interest in this issue ... there had to be representation."

Goetz said he was not aware that Iron was involved with area meetings.

Carson, who has not received a response to her Feb. 11 letter, said she would like clarification on whether the arena's efforts are sanctioned by the board.

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