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Standing Rock official says ban on Fighting Sioux nickname referendum unconstitutional

GRAND FORKS -- A moratorium on referendums dealing with UND's Fighting Sioux nickname at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is unconstitutional, Tribal Attorney Brent Kary said.

The Dec. 7 opinion came at the request of Tom Iron, a former tribal leader and nickname supporter from the tribe.

In May 2008, the Tribal Council had resolved to ban such referendums by a 7-5 vote and an effort this August to undo that moratorium failed 8-7.

This year's tribal election changed some of the council members and brought in an administration that favors a referendum.

Chairman Charles W. Murphy has said he's open to any referendum the people bring forward, though he himself would not take the initiative.

In his opinion, Kary wrote that the constitutions of both North Dakota and South Dakota -- the Standing Rock reservation straddles the two states -- give their residents the right to propose measures. The tribal constitution and the Indian Civil Rights Act, he wrote, state that no tribe shall block the right of the people to petition for a redress of grievances.

"When decisions are made by the Tribal Council, whether it is the adoption of a code or ordinance or the prohibition of certain acts by the people, individuals who may disagree are afforded the right to redress or grieve that issue through the process of referendum or initiative," Kary wrote.

Iron said the opinion should help nickname supporters convince the council to allow a referendum, but he couldn't say how that would come about.

Nickname opponents have earlier argued that the tribal constitution does not have a process for tribal members to petition for a referendum, only a constitutional amendment. They argued that a referendum is, therefore, not something tribal members can gather signatures to put on the ballot.

Some supporters had been working toward that end.