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Fighting Sioux nickname supporters make their case in U.S. Court of Appeals

ST. PAUL - Sioux defenders of UND's former nickname made one more push here Thursday to restore the Fighting Sioux name, asking the Eighth U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse a district court order dismissing their lawsuit against the NCAA.

Attorneys representing the athletics association and the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe's pro nickname Committee for Understanding and Respect each had 15 minutes to bolster orally the extensive briefs they had filed earlier.

Presiding Judge Lavenski Smith said the three-member court "will continue to study the briefs and make a decision in due course."

Pro-nickname members of the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux nations last year appealed U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson's dismissal of their lawsuit.

The Spirit Lake committee, joined by Standing Rock Sioux member Archie Fool Bear, had filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Nov. 1, 2011, alleging violations of contract law and federal civil rights laws. They also sought reversal of the 2005 NCAA policy against use of American Indian names and imagery by member schools, which led to the running conflict with UND.

Committee and NCAA lawyers argued the issue in Fargo before Judge Erickson, who dismissed the suit in early May 2012. The Spirit Lake committee and Fool Bear filed notice of appeal at the end of May.

In June, voters in the North Dakota primary election overwhelmingly endorsed retirement of the nickname. But just three days later, the Spirit Lake committee filed additional documents with the appeals court, arguing that the Sioux people had been denied "a seat at the table" as the controversial issue worked through state and federal courts, the North Dakota Legislature and NCAA governing bodies.

After the primary election vote, the State Board of Higher Education directed UND to retire the historic nickname and Indian head logo, which the university has done. While many fans have held tight to Fighting Sioux regalia and identity, UND athletic teams have since competed officially as "North Dakota" and "UND" while the university complies with a state-imposed nickname moratorium until 2015.

'Lack standing'

In a written brief filed with the appeals court last August, the NCAA said the plaintiffs lack standing to sue, "however sincere (their) antipathy toward the NCAA," and their appeal "is as procedurally improper as it is futile."

Reed Soderstrom, a Minot attorney representing the Spirit Lake committee and Fool Bear, responded in his written brief that the NCAA had not engaged the committee's arguments, "relying instead on a barrage of un-meritorious claims regarding pleading, standing and statutes of limitation."

As in previous filings and arguments, Soderstrom and the committee relied heavily on a 1969 naming ceremony conducted at UND by Sioux elders, the significance of which has been a matter of dispute.

Check back for additional updates today as the story progresses.