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Fighting Sioux nickname deadline looms as Standing Rock tribe hasn't set referendum date

GRAND FORKS - The state deadline for UND's Fighting Sioux nickname expires Saturday and, so far, there's been no official word from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that the tribe would or wouldn't hold a referendum on the issue.

The Tribal Council met last week, but isn't expected to meet until next Wednesday.

Grant Shaft, a member of the State Board of Higher Education who's from Grand Forks, said the board is waiting to see if tribal Chairman Charlie Murphy wants to hold a referendum.

Murphy could just send a letter to that effect, Shaft said.

Without that letter, it's likely that the board will instruct UND President Robert Kelley to begin retiring the nickname.

The Herald could not reach Murphy on Tuesday.

A nickname supporter from Standing Rock's Cannonball District, Antoine American Horse Jr., said he understands that Murphy is working with his group on language for the referendum, but he doesn't expect the council would address it until at least next week.

There are currently petitions going around the reservation calling for a referendum, American Horse said.

Under terms of a settlement with the NCAA, which considers American Indian nicknames offensive, UND has until February to win the approval of both Sioux tribes in the state. The Spirit Lake tribe has approved the nickname, but the Standing Rock tribe has not.

The state board has moved the deadline forward and, presently, there are two deadlines. By Oct. 31, the board needs to know the tribe's intent. By Nov. 30, it needs the tribe to hold a referendum.

But a referendum would require a 30-day notice, which would push the election past Nov. 30.

Still, the deadlines are really internal deadlines that the board could just as easily ignore if it chose to.

If UND were to begin retiring the nickname and the board were to get approval from the tribes, say in January, would anything stop the board from reversing itself and accepting the nickname?

"There's nothing that would stop the board; the issue is always in our control," Shaft said. "But having said that I do think that board members are at the point where they do want it resolved one way or another. So therefore revisiting the issue would be far more unlikely if those approvals came down the road."