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Fighting Sioux nickname opponents at Spirit Lake seek referendum delay

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. -- A referendum on the Fighting Sioux Nickname could die before it even gets on the ballot Tuesday because of a challenge from nickname opponents on the Spirit Lake Indian reservation.

Terry Morgan and Erich Longie are alleging that more than 85 of the 301 signatures that it took to put the issue on the ballot are questionable. They're asking a tribal judge today to put the referendum on pause so they can challenge the signatures.

Some signers appeared not to be enrolled tribal members, some appeared not to be reservation residents and some appeared to be duplicated, Morgan said.

He and some friends with access to the list of enrolled members recently compared that list with the signatures.

About 200 signatures are needed for the referendum to stay on the ballot.

Eunice Davidson, a spokeswoman for the nickname supporters and one of the volunteers who gathered the signatures, said she had heard of the allegation but couldn't comment because she didn't know enough about it.

At the very least, an injunction by the judge would buy nickname opponents more time, Longie said. He's convinced, he said, that he and other opponents will be able to persuade voters, given enough time.

The nickname, a divisive issue at UND and in Grand Forks, is becoming divisive on the reservation, as well.

The tribal judge who will rule on the referendum Friday is coming from the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, Morgan said. One Spirit Lake judge already is on the record opposing the nickname, he said, and the other has a family member involved in the nickname dispute.

At stake is UND's continued use of the nickname and the associated logo. Under a settlement with the NCAA, the university must win the blessings of the two namesake Sioux tribes in North Dakota or retire the nickname by Nov. 30, 2010.

At Standing Rock, the other namesake tribe, nickname supporters also are pushing for a referendum.

Beside the questionable signatures, Morgan also is alleging that nickname supporters left petition forms unattended while voters signed them, which is against the tribal constitution.

A tribal election commission, which vetted the signatures earlier, had not found irregularities.