UND nickname campaign begins on Spirit Lake Reservation
GRAND FORKS - Both sides of the Fighting Sioux nickname referendum taking place later this month on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation are gearing up to win hearts and minds.
Nickname opponents have plans to talk to voters and convince them the nickname worn by UND athletes is offensive.
"We got started later than the other group, so we're playing catch up," said Erich Longie, a core member of the opposition. "We'll need to work hard, but we're optimistic. We're optimistic because everybody who listens changes their mind."
"If we lose, it's not going to be the end of it," he said. Nickname opponents will seek another referendum, he said.
The "other group" is the nickname supporters who gathered 301 signatures to put the nickname on the Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation's primary ballot.
Eunice Davidson, a group member, said the group had done some fundraising and plans to advertise on TV and in the newspaper. "All we want is a fair vote. That's all we really want."
A survey and the signature-gathering campaign both confirmed strong support for the nickname, and she said she's confident that's still the case.
The referendum asks tribal members if they support the Fighting Sioux nickname or not. Under a settlement with the NCAA, UND needs the blessings of both namesake tribes in the state, the other being the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, to keep the nickname.
The NCAA opposes the use of American Indian nicknames.
Nickname opponents on the reservation met Wednesday to talk with voters, Longie said. UND alumni like him, he said, talked about the racism they encountered when they attended the university decades ago.
The plan is for opposition members to spread the word throughout the community, especially among their relatives.
Many young people signed the nickname petition without understanding the issues, Longie said, and their elders who do understand will persuade them to vote "no."
On the reservation, political campaigns usually follow family lines, according to Longie. Someone committed to one side of an issue would talk to his or her extended family and win them over, in part, because of blood ties.
He believes that's how nickname supporters got their signatures, he said.
Davidson, though, said that's not the case. The group talked to many people, many randomly, she said, not just relatives.
In fact, she and Longie are cousins.
She said nickname supporters are meeting Friday to put together their own strategy.