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Spirit Lake tribal members want UND nickname on ballot

A group of Spirit Lake tribal members plans to ask the tribal council to hold a reservationwide referendum on UND's Fighting Sioux nickname.

"I feel very strongly about it," said group member Eunice Davidson of Devils Lake. "I like the name. I like the college using the name." She said she didn't think it was derogatory at all.

The group will make its formal request when the council meets next week, she said, though the time and date isn't clear yet.

Tribal Council member Lois Leben, a past nickname supporter, said she hadn't been aware there was a meeting scheduled. She declined further comment.

A referendum could help UND retain the nickname, which the NCAA has called "hostile and abusive." Under a legal settlement with the NCAA, the university must win the support of the two namesake tribes in the state or retire the nickname by Nov. 30, 2010.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's council has already voted to not hold a referendum. The Spirit Lake tribal council has not decided one way or the other, though Chairwoman Myra Pearson has indicated she personally opposed the nickname.

A year ago, some council members had thought a referendum was imminent but there's not been much talk of it lately.

Davidson referred in-depth questions about her group to its founder and spokesman, John Chaske, who was out of state and could not be reached. She said Chaske started the group about a year ago, and it has about 20 to 25 core members.

University system Chancellor William Goetz said in September that he didn't consider a referendum a long-term solution. In January, at the request of the State Board of Higher Education, he formed a committee to work with the tribes on the nickname issue. Goetz had sought two additional committee members from the tribes.

His spokeswoman, Debra Anderson, said he won't talk about the committee until the board meets again in March.

The committee has yet to meet, one of its members said this week.