This article critically examines an official document addressing the University of North Dakota's (UND's) âFighting Siouxâ logo. Prior to the civil rights movement of ...
Mascot Journal Matters of Communication Inquiry
Mascot Matters: Race, History, and the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux” Logo This article critically examines an official document addressing the University of North Dakota’s (UND’s) “Fighting Sioux” logo. Prior to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the UND campus was populated mostly by white students, faculty members, and administrators. Such a population created a climate in which the appropriation of Native American images and symbols for fun and sport went largely unquestioned. The debates that have developed since the 1960s around the Fighting Sioux logo reflect the struggles of different groups to define the parameters of acceptable and unacceptable forms of communication.
The ongoing debates about the University of North Dakota’s (UND’s) “Fighting Sioux” logo reflect a dynamic process of communication in which different parties attempt to control the discussions about this symbol and thus define part of the social reality of the campus, specifically the relationship between Native American students and the university. These debates offer an opportunity to examine how institutions and individuals struggle to promote different visions and interpretations of both history and the present. In the course of that struggle, old myths and beliefs are sometimes forgotten and sometimes modified to accommodate political, social, and economic changes. The study of these myths is important because they are reflections of how we as a community explain the world and the society in which we live. The term myth in this context refers to texts that reflect ways of thinking that in turn reinforce how people behave. The works of Lévi-Strauss (1967), Barthes (1957), and Fiske and Hartely (1978) present cultural myths as systems of meaning construction closely tied to a community’s ideology and behavior. As Campbell (1995, 14) explained, myth refers to stories modern societies tell to reduce the complexities and contradictions in everyday life. Author’s Note: The author would like to thank Marwan Kraidy of American University, Carlota Ocampo of Trinity College, and Alla Yeliseyeva of Georgetown University for comments on earlier versions of this article. David Vorland of the University of North Dakota and Lucy Ganje of the Native Media Center at the University of North Dakota provided valuable information about the history of the Fighting Sioux logo. Journal of Communication Inquiry 26:1 (January 2002): 76-94 © 2002 Sage Publications
Such systems of meaning tend to deny history and in this way “naturalize” the social order. In this article, I critically interrogate an official statement about the Fighting Sioux logo found in a text that is widely distributed on the UND campus. To contextualize the controversy over the university’s mascot and because the official statement on the Sioux logo contains historical information, this article provides a historical perspective on the Fighting Sioux logo that challenges the information in the official statement. The debates about Indian mascots as team logos are not new to either UND or other universities and professional sports clubs throughout the country that use Indian images to promote their teams (American Indian Sports Team Mascots 2001; King and Springwood 2001). The University of Illinois’s “Chief Illini” (Prochaska 2001, 157-85; Rosenstein 1997) and the University of Florida “Seminoles” are two examples in higher education that come readily to mind (King and Springwood 2001, 129-56). At the national level, the names “Washington Redskins” (Harjo 2001, 189-207), “Cleveland Indians” (Staurowsky 1998), and “Atlanta Braves”(Rosenstein 2001, 248) have been controversial for decades. These controversies represent ongoing struggles among different groups in society to define the parameters of acceptable and unacceptable expressions, terms, and definitions. As such, these struggles are cultural expressions of political, social, and economic changes affecting university campuses and the nation. Because communication and culture are intertwined (Carey 1992), a close examination of the arguments about the use of Native American images and symbols to promote sporting events, especially at tax-supported institutions of higher learning, unveils important social processes that are influencing these debates. The organization on the UND campus of some students, faculty members, and staff members to argue for a change in the use of a Native American image as a sports icon represents a shift in attitudes on the part of some Native Americans and those whites who support them on this issue about the role of minority groups on the university campus, in the state of North Dakota, and in the rest of the nation. Challenging the legitimacy of the Fighting Sioux logo signals a change in the social relations between Native Americans, the UND administration, and the rest of the university community. This change reflects more than Native American students asserting their Native American identity on the university campus. It also indicates demands for respect of Native American culture and for the full participation of the school’s Native American students in decision-making processes (Waste’win 1998, 6-7). At a deeper level still, these challenges are unmasking a UND tradition as anything but “natural,” thus forcing the university and the larger community to confront the origins of its Fighting Sioux identity and culture in contrast to the myths it projects about those origins in official statements. The Fighting Sioux
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logo is a cultural artifact created over time within a social context. The logo, the beliefs about its origins, and meanings ascribed to it over time represent part of an attempt by white Americans to define a lifestyle on the northern plains. Like all artifacts, the origins and development of the Fighting Sioux logo are rooted in a dynamic interaction of cultural, political, and economic conditions.
Literature Review Critical scholars have argued that there are strong ties between how we communicate and the type of society and culture we create (Habermas 1991; Horkheimer and Adorno 1994; Gramsci 1971; Riggins 1997; van Dijk 1987). Words and images express a society’s values, beliefs, and ideas and for this reason cannot be neutral. Communication is a social process in which different persons, groups, and organizations struggle to define signs such as words and logos as well as the rules that govern how they will be used. This social process is the way human beings make meanings from spoken words and other symbolic systems (Lemke 1995, 6). The results of these social processes are discourses, or ways of communicating about certain topics. Discourses about the Sioux logo reveal a culture that has dominated the UND campus for over 100 years. It is a culture built not only on policies of exclusion, suppression, and oppression of Native Americans but on government-sponsored programs of genocide (Churchill 1998; Berkhofer 1978). Unlike the traditional social science approach, questions of power are given a prominent role in critical analysis. Ignoring the role of power in the communication process, as many traditional social science approaches to the study of communication tend to do, leads to a distorted view of social interaction and implies acceptance of the assumption that in the process of communication, everyone has an equal chance of making his or her voice heard. A body of communication research strongly indicates that ethnic background, social status, access to resources, and personal attributes, to name just the most obvious features, can all influence the process of communication (Gandy 1982; van Dijk 1991, 1993). In the process of communication, some people’s voices are louder and carry farther than others. Communication takes place within a social and cultural context that gives meaning, sometimes obvious but more often unnoticed, to our words and thoughts (Gramsci 1971; Hall 1980). We communicate through cultural codes. That is, the words we speak and the letters we write are learned within a cultural setting. In this sense, all communication is intertextual, that is, related to all other aspects of the culture in which communication takes place. The term Native American, for example, cannot be understood outside some of the recent developments in U.S. culture. Introduced in the 1960s,
Native American is understood to mean someone in the United States who can trace his or her ancestry to pre-European times. While the term native North Dakotan generally implies someone born in that state, only cultural codes help us understand that not all native North Dakotans are Native Americans and that many Native Americans are North Dakotans. Another example is the word Indian. In the United States, the noun Indian refers to someone who might consider himself or herself a Native American. U.S. culture teaches us that the term Indian refers to someone who is Native American. If a speaker is discussing someone from India, we expect the speaker to alert us to that fact by providing more information, for example, “He’s Indian, from India.” This is an example of how communication and thinking are intertwined and understood only within a cultural context. In the process of explaining why people communicate and think the way they do, we can learn how behavior and beliefs are often the result of the tensions of both arbitrary and immediate solutions to practical problems as well as the products of a long, historical process that is constantly being altered to suit present-day needs. Embedded in the process of communication are the dominant ideas of a community. These ideas permeate every aspect of an organization and shape production, including the production of cultural products such as official statements. In fact, for some researchers, official statements about minority groups or less powerful groups in society are ideal for studying the dominant discourses of a community because these statements are carefully crafted before being made public. They contain within them the thoughts, values, and beliefs held by the elite about minority groups. These official documents often contain racist views dressed up in politically correct terms. Some research indicates that these official documents make possible the more crude forms of racism expressed in popular culture (van Dijk 1997, 32). Because university administrations deal with both students and institutions such as state legislatures and boards consisting of political appointees, it can be said that they mediate the views of dominant and subordinate groups on and off campus. Tuition-paying students, faculty organizations, legislative bodies both at the state and national levels, and alumni organizations that contribute funds to the university are all vying for the opportunity to define their images through the image of the university. All of these organizations work within an ideological framework to control and shape the discourses about the university. However, those discourses are the result of access to resources such as money, people, and technology. Persons and organizations with access to money to hire professionals to write press releases and then distribute those releases through the mail, fax machines, and the Internet can tilt the balance of power against those persons and organizations who do not have access to such resources. This is why official statements can be said to reflect the convergence of dominant discourses.
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The relationship between communication and society makes it important to examine current official writings about the Fighting Sioux logo. Such an examination can bring into relief discrepancies in the official story about the Sioux logo and tensions between the dominant white culture’s perception of Native American culture on the college campus and Native American perceptions of Native American culture. The history of the Fighting Sioux logo and what is communicated about this symbol in official texts reveal that far from being “natural,” it was created by human beings reacting to social and economic changes.
Contextualizing UND’s Official Statement on the Sioux Logo The following statement on the Fighting Sioux logo appears in many of the publications distributed by UND. It was taken from the Code of Student Life (University of North Dakota 1999a), which is published every year by the Student Affairs Office. The same statement appears in the UND Directory (University of North Dakota 1999b, p. 36) and on UND’s Web page. The statement addresses the history and university’s use of the Fighting Sioux logo and its determination to respect Native American culture: Since the early 1930s, the University of North Dakota athletic teams have been known as the Fighting Sioux and have used an American Indian head representation as their symbol. UND officially adopted the name “Fighting Sioux” in honor of the first inhabitants of the region and some of the American Indian tribes of the state. In 1993, UND President Kendall Baker reaffirmed the use of the Fighting Sioux as the nickname for UND’s athletic teams. At the same time, he said UND must take action to ensure the name is used in a completely respectful fashion both on and off campus. This includes the use of the official geometric representation of an American Indian head logo, the only officially approved logo of UND athletic teams. Specific guidelines exist to prevent the misuse of this symbol, which is protected by federal and state trademark registration. UND ranks among the top higher education institutions in the nation in the number of American Indians in its student population, the variety and substance of its Native American programs, and the number and success of its American Indian alumni. For example, more than 20 percent of the American Indian doctors practicing in the United States today were trained through UND’s Indians into Medicine (INMED) program. UND has also developed programs to help train American Indians for such professional careers as nursing, psychology, journalism, and the sciences. The University of North Dakota is firmly committed to promoting an environment that emphasizes respect for diversity. In accordance with this commitment, the UND community is dedicated to respecting the past and present of the American Indians. Further information is available from the Native American Programs Office, the Vice President for Student Affairs, or the Office of University Relations. (University of North Dakota 1999a, 34)
The first paragraph introduces the reader to UND’s official perspective on the Fighting Sioux logo. The first sentence presents historical material. Indeed, it was in 1930 that UND took the name Fighting Sioux to identify its athletic teams (Geiger 1958, 325). It was also when an Indian head became the symbol of the Fighting Sioux. The second sentence, however, is speculation. The reader is told why the leaders of the university in the 1930s decided to adopt the Fighting Sioux moniker and Indian head logo. It was, the second sentence explains, to honor those who had lived in the upper Midwest before Europeans came to settle the region and the state. In late May 2000, while researching the history of the Fighting Sioux logo at UND, I asked the archivists at the Chester Fritz Library if any records about the decision to change the name to the Fighting Sioux were available. I was told that no such records exist. When I expressed some doubt that no documentation about an important decision such as changing the school’s mascot existed, I was told that the decision was made at a different time, when school administrators did not pay too much attention to process. University administrators also told me that they knew of no records documenting the name change. In the absence of minutes of meetings, diaries, letters, or other types of historical documents maintained by those who discussed taking the name Sioux for the UND athletic teams, no one can say for certain why the name was adopted. At best, it could only be said that it is believed that UND may have adopted the Fighting Sioux logo to “honor the first inhabitants of the region and some of the American Indian tribes of the state.” The reasoning behind such a belief would have to be provided by the university. By following the first sentence, based on fact, with the second sentence, which is conjecture, the second sentence takes on a luster of fact or “truth” by association. In addition to mixing fact and speculation, this first paragraph is important because it communicates both by offering information to the public and incorporating a rhetorical strategy of omission. It ignores important information about the history of the Fighting Sioux logo. Both of these strategies together create in the first paragraph the impression that adopting the Fighting Sioux logo was a magnanimous gesture on the part of UND. The first paragraph, especially the second sentence, also contributes to the illusion that in this geographic region, the prairie of the upper Midwest, adopting such a logo was “natural” and therefore “right.” Leaving information out of the official statement distorts the context in which the university decided to adopt the Fighting Sioux logo and promotes a wholesome image of the university’s decision to take the name Fighting Sioux. The paragraph makes no mention, for example, of what the UND athletic teams were called before 1930. There is no explanation of why UND would in 1930 decide to “honor” people it hardly allowed on campus. How people who
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only fifty years before had been hunted down and killed came to be seen in 1930 as “honorable” is not addressed. Answers to such questions provide a much deeper understanding of the Fighting Sioux debate currently on the UND campus.
Historical Context of Fighting Sioux Before 1930, UND’s athletic teams were known as the “Flickertails,” then a popular term for ground squirrels (Geiger 1958, 325). However, even before the name was officially changed to Sioux, there was already a tendency toward the name change. As early as 1892, when UND organized its first football team, a committee of faculty members was organized to come up with “a suitable college yell” (Geiger 1958, 127). According to Geiger, “The result, derived from the Greek and the Sioux, reflected the character and the milieu of the University of North Dakota” (p. 127). Part of that character seems to have been a desire to reinvent prairie culture. Geiger (1958) noted that the newspapers of the late 1800s and early 1900s often reported on the wild and rough antics of the “less refined” residents of Grand Forks. Besides whorehouse brawls, suicides, and murders, Geiger noted a lynching off the Red River Bridge and “the drunkenly hilarious drenching of a half-breed’s hair and beard with kerosene and setting it ablaze in a saloon” (p. 10). The founders of UND, drawn mostly from the ranks of the new business class that had done well after the Civil War, were, like most nouveau riches, anxious to present themselves to the rest of the world as “civilized.” The association of North Dakota with backwardness, isolation, and ignorance was one that the founders of the university were determined to change. Their hope was that UND would usher an element of refinement and “taste” into the prairie lifestyle (Geiger 1958, 10-11). Indeed, Bohnet (1994) noted that in the late 1890s, UND was considered by some newspaper editors as “the budding Yale of the prairies” (p. 3). Within this context, two camps emerged when the role of the new university was discussed. One camp wanted to focus on the liberal arts while the other preferred agricultural and technical studies. Part of what was considered a practical education in the Dakota territories in the late 1860s was military training. While Grand Forks residents who had attended college on the East Coast expressed a preference for UND to provide a classical education, many of the homesteaders and farmers saw the university as a place to receive “training in agriculture, mechanic arts, or Indian fighting” (Geiger 1958, 14). Indeed, the legislative act establishing UND includes references to the “proper fitness of the pupils in the scientific and practical courses for their chosen pursuits and in military tactics” (section 10). The inclusion of military training as
part of the curriculum was directly related to the presence of Native Americans in the Dakota territories. Geiger wrote that “even the requirement of military training could be viewed as a wholly practical one in Dakota, where the Indian problem [sic] was still immediate when the University was established” (p. 13). The works of Churchill (1998), Berkhofer (1978), and others have shown that most military action against Native Americans was for the purpose of exterminating them. Thus, from its inception, UND was seen by some as a way to continue intimidating, harassing, and killing Native Americans. In 1930, UND changed its mascot from the Flickertails to the Sioux (Geiger 1958, 325). That change also caused some controversy that was rooted in the identity of UND. The controversy was centered on what the new name, Fighting Sioux, would communicate about UND to the rest of the country. According to one source, the president of the UND alumni association at the time, Fred Traynor, argued against the name change. His feeling was that people on the East Coast still held stereotypical views of those living in North Dakota as backward and uncivilized. Taking a name such as Sioux, Traynor argued, would only exacerbate the image of North Dakotans as uncultured and coarse (Earl Strinden, UND alumni president, personal communication, 17 March 1999). A key figure said to have been behind the name change was Alvin Austin, for many years the chair of the UND journalism department. While still a student at UND, Austin had been the editor of the campus newspaper, the Dakota Student. According to Annis (1999, 2), in September 1930, Austin wrote two letters to the Dakota Student calling for a name change. Previously, a letter to the Dakota Student had suggested the name Sioux. The person writing the letter, who was never positively identified, gave three reasons for supporting the name change to the Fighting Sioux. These were that there were no better exterminators of bison (the mascot of UND’s rival, North Dakota State University [NDSU]) than the Sioux, the Sioux were warlike and of fine physique, and the word Sioux could easily be used in chants and songs. The name was changed from Flickertails to Fighting Sioux soon after the letters were published in the Dakota Student. Five years after the name change, in 1935, the first “genuine” Sioux was enrolled as a student at UND. The greeting of Franklin Dog Eagle to the UND campus turned out to be empty rhetoric on the part of UND. According to Geiger (1958) “The registration . . . of Franklin Dog Eagle . . . was hailed prematurely, it turned out—as the beginning of a connection with a hitherto neglected segment of the state’s population” (p. 381). Such historical material provides a context for gaining a better understanding of the development of the Sioux logo. The Sioux logo does not appear to have been motivated by a desire to honor Native Americans but instead was more a reaction to the adoption by NDSU of the bison as its mascot. However,
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UND’s reaction to NDSU’s mascot was not arbitrary. It was rooted in the history of the people who made the decision. The end of the Indian Wars, the granting of citizenship to Indians in 1924 (Churchill 1998, 246), and the drive to assimilate (i.e., “civilize”) Native Americans all contributed to the adoption of the Sioux mascot after NDSU adopted the bison as its mascot. There appears to be no document in which UND officials, alumni, or students in the late 1920s or 1930 suggested honoring Native Americans or members of the Sioux nation by calling the teams Fighting Sioux. In the absence of such documents, speculation about the reasons why UND adopted that particular logo is just that, speculation. There is evidence that many people of the time equated Native Americans with animals. Even those willing to Christianize and assimilate Native Americans into the American mainstream used the phrase “kill the Indian, save the man” to express their goals. Thus, in the same way that NDSU took an animal, the buffalo, as its mascot, UND took the Sioux as its mascot. The description of the Sioux as “exterminators of bison” and warlike lends support to the argument that they were seen as less than human by many white persons on the university campus in the 1930s. Further, their description as “of fine physique” indicates that they were seen in physical terms. At the same time, many whites began to see the Sioux as “noble” and proud. Such perspectives reflect the perception of the Sioux as both the negative “other” and attractive “exotic,” a common contradiction found in the discourses of the dominant perceptions of persons outside the mainstream (Riggins 1997, 1-30). Thus, the first paragraph of the official statement on the Sioux logo contains one sentence, the first, that is based on fact. The second sentence, as we have seen, has no basis in fact. The information presented in the second sentence is speculation reflecting the wishful thinking of university administrators and not documented evidence of the reasons why university leaders in 1930 decided to take up the Fighting Sioux logo.
Remembering to Forget In the second paragraph of the official statement about the Fighting Sioux logo, the discourse of tradition and honor is introduced. While the first paragraph is presented as historical context for the origins of the Fighting Sioux logo, the second paragraph places the reader in the 1990s: In 1993, UND President Kendall Baker reaffirmed the use of the Fighting Sioux as the nickname for UND’s athletic teams. At the same time, he said UND must take action to ensure the name is used in a completely respectful fashion both on and off campus. This includes the use of the official geometric representation of an American Indian head logo, the only officially approved logo of UND athletic teams. Specific guidelines exist to prevent the misuse of this symbol, which is
protected by federal and state trademark registration. (University of North Dakota 1999a, 34)
Like the first sentence of the first paragraph, the first sentence of the second paragraph is straightforward. It simply informs the reader about the president’s action. The sentence implies that Kendall Baker simply decided to publicly “reaffirm” the Fighting Sioux logo. The word affirm means “to say positively; declare firmly; assert to be true; opposed to deny . . . to make valid; confirm; uphold; ratify (a law, decision, or judgment)” (Guralink 1980). Readers of this official explanation for the Sioux logo never learn what prompted President Baker to “reaffirm” the Fighting Sioux logo in 1993. Why would a president of UND feel it necessary to “uphold” and “ratify” the Fighting Sioux logo after it had been in use for sixty-three years? Taken out of historical context, the second paragraph leaves the reader with a positive impression of President Baker’s decision and of UND. Recall that in the last sentence of the first paragraph, the information that the university decided to identify itself as the Fighting Sioux to honor the Native Americans in the region is presented in the absence of historical material. In the first sentence of the second paragraph, the impression is again created that the president of the university, in a magnanimous gesture, was moved to honor the Native Americans in the state of North Dakota by “reaffirming” the university’s use of the Fighting Sioux logo. There is a historical context for this affirmation as well, one the official statement overlooks. The reason for the affirmation by Baker was that once again, the logo was being challenged by Native American groups both on and off campus after Native Americans and their culture had come under attack from white UND students. A close examination of the incidents that led to this reaffirmation indicates that Baker did not so much “reaffirm” the logo as “redefine” it to bring it in line with the campus politics of the 1990s. While the issue of using a Native American image as a logo may not have sat well with some Native Americans, it was not until the late 1960s that the issue surfaced as a controversial topic. It was during this period in the history of UND that the logo issue could no longer be contained within the discourses of “tradition” and “honor.” The consensus that had been easily maintained in a student body, faculty, and administration that were overwhelmingly white began to be challenged by a group of Native American students. Native American students had started to attend UND as a result of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. Many incidents in which the word Sioux and the representations of Lakota Indians were used in jokes and for the amusement of whites were raising questions among Native American students and others on campus about the legitimacy of such terms and representations.
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In the 1970s, UND saw a significant increase in the enrollment of Native American students. In the early 1970s, the Native American Student Organization began sponsoring an annual powwow on campus, a tradition that has continued to this day (Rice 1992, 24). In 1971, the state legislature approved an Indian studies program at the university (Rice 1992, 28). Along with this approval was the official recognition that UND had a special mission to serve Native American students. In the academic year 1976-77, the state legislature approved a Native American programs unit, and the Indian studies program received departmental status and became a part of the College of Arts and Sciences. Federal funds also made several academic programs available, such as INMED and Teacher Corps, a joint venture between the Center for Teaching and Learning and schools on the Turtle Mountain, Standing Rock, and Devil’s Lake reservations. Other programs targeting Native Americans were soon found in fields of study such as counseling, geography, library science, education, and educational administration (Rice 1992, 28). It is important to point out that these programs were mostly federally funded. They did not require redistribution of existing university funds but rather increased the total budget of the university (Vorland 2000). Such funding should not be interpreted as a sign that the federal government is more accepting or understanding of Native American issues. Much that has been written on the history of Native Americans shows that the U.S. government has never been particularly fond of Indians or Indian culture. Rather, it is a reflection of differences, national and local, in how best to deal with the “Indian problem” (see Berkhofer 1978). The point is that by the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Native American presence on the UND campus was apparent. The changes that led to that presence also contributed to a new identity for Native Americans. Rather than succumb to the assimilation politics exemplified by the U.S. government’s post– World War II termination and relocation programs (Fixico 1986), Native American students in the late 1960s and 1970s were more willing to identify themselves publicly and proudly as Native American. Part of that pride is rooted in the politics of self-determination of the late 1960s and 1970s. Native American symbols and identities would no longer be the domain of whites but of Native American people. In this changing social context, the Sioux logo became for many UND Native American students and whites a symbol of Native American culture and identity as imagined by whites. Like other minority groups and women in the 1960s and 1970s, Native American students felt it was time to take control of their representation on campus. In 1968, almost ninety years after the founding of UND in Lakota country, the first Native American student organization was formed, the University of North Dakota Indian Association (UNDIA) (Vorland 2000). There is some disagreement about the founding of UNDIA; Annis (1999) cited 1969 as the year in which the organization was founded. In 1970, UNDIA demanded that
the university set up an Indian studies program, do away with a mascot referred to as “Sammy Sioux,” and stop using the Fighting Sioux nickname. UNDIA was successful in getting the university to meet two of its demands. The UNDIA Cultural Center opened its doors in 1971 (Annis 1999, 2). The Sammy Sioux mascot was retired a few years later (Vorland 2000). However, the university kept the moniker Fighting Sioux. The history of the Sammy Sioux logo is not clear. Unlike the Fighting Sioux nickname, Sammy Sioux appears to have been a cultural artifact that developed from “the bottom up” and was apparently never officially recognized or approved by the university. It was introduced to the UND campus sometime in the 1950s (Vorland 2000) or 1960s (Swanson 1999). This caricature of a Native American was used by several UND organizations, including the Golden Feather Spirit Club, which displayed it on its jackets. The cartoon portrays a stereotypically childish, “happy” Indian with a feather on his head. Another version of Sammy Sioux depicts him with crossed eyes. In the summer of 1972, UND president Thomas Clifford formed the Committee on Indian Awareness. Some members of the committee as well as members of the faculty and staff were questioning the appropriateness of some of the logos, including the Sammy Sioux logo and the Blackhawk logo. While the Committee on Indian Awareness did not object to the use of the name Sioux, the Sammy Sioux caricature was thought to be offensive (Rice 1992, 23; Vorland 2000). Criticism of the Sammy Sioux logo by the Committee on Indian Awareness led the athletic department to officially “retire” Sammy Sioux. The Blackhawk logo, in use by the hockey team since the 1960s, was retained. The Blackhawk logo is strikingly similar to the logo introduced in the fall of 1999. A Native American in profile is adorned with four feathers pointing downward. This is the logo essentially banned by President Kendall Baker in 1993 after a homecoming incident during which Native American children were taunted by UND fraternity and sorority members (see below). Another key event in the Fighting Sioux logo controversy occurred during the now defunct King Kold Karnival in 1972 (Vorland 2000). Ice sculptures were a part of this winter celebration. Native Americans were offended by some ice sculptures created by fraternities and sororities on campus. One of the ice sculptures featured a Native American in braids and some mock feathers. Another represented the head and torso of a Native American woman, with the breasts as the most prominent feature. Below this ice sculpture were the words “Lick ’em Sioux.” Offended by the ice sculptures, Native American students asked university administrators to have them removed. When the university ignored their requests, some Native American students decided to destroy the ice sculptures. While destroying the sculptures, a fight broke out between a Native American student at the time, George Whirlwind Soldier, and several
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fraternity members. Whirlwind Soldier was arrested and jailed. When allowed to make a phone call, Whirlwind Soldier called Thomas Clifford, who, some report, posted Whirlwind Soldier’s bail (Sculpture provokes protest 1972). The campus newspaper quoted some students at the time as saying, “better dead than red,” and “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” No evidence of disciplinary action against the fraternities or their members for their offensive ice sculptures was reported (Annis 1999, 2). Tensions over the use of the Sioux logo came to the boiling point again in the fall of 1992, the semester before Kendall Baker reaffirmed the university’s use of the Fighting Sioux logo. During homecoming festivities, a group of Native Americans known as the Seven Feathers Dance Club was riding a float in the homecoming parade. The group was presenting various Native American dances. Behind the Seven Feathers Dance Club was a group of fraternity and sorority members. During the parade, the fraternity and sorority members began to taunt and ridicule the members of the dance club, which included children ranging in ages from three to fourteen. According to Chase Iron Eyes (personal communication, 10 February 1999) and Annis (1999, 3), spectators yelled, “Go back to the reservation,” “Dirty Indians,” and “Tell your parents to get off welfare” and mocked a war whoop (see also Huschka 1992). This incident led Kendall Baker, who had just assumed the position of president of the university, to phase out the Blackhawk logo and promote the registered geometric Indian head logo (Johnson 1993). Thus, in the second paragraph of the official statement, ignoring the historical context in which Baker felt the need to “reaffirm” the Fighting Sioux logo creates the impression that his action was solely to honor Native American culture and Native American people. It overlooks the conflict and racism manifested as a result of a policy that supports the use of anachronistic images of Native Americans for public display. Such rhetorical maneuvering sets up the third paragraph of the official statement.
Focusing on the Positive In the third paragraph of the official statement, the university has chosen to focus on the number of American Indian students and programs on campus: UND ranks among the top higher education institutions in the nation in the number of American Indians in its student population, the variety and substance of its Native American programs, and the number and success of its American Indian alumni. For example, more than 20 percent of the American Indian doctors practicing in the United States today were trained through UND’s Indians into Medicine (INMED) program. UND has also developed programs to help train American Indians for such professional careers as nursing, psychology, journalism, and the sciences. (University of North Dakota 1999a, 34)
In this paragraph, vague terms and carefully crafted sentences maintain the reader’s attention on the more positive aspects of UND’s relationship with the Native American population. The general statement that UND “ranks among the top” in terms of number of American Indian students raises more questions than it answers. What exactly does it mean to rank “among the top?” While the university points to the number of Native American programs on campus as a symbol of progress, the number of Native students enrolled at UND in the fall of 1999 was 349, or 3.8 percent of the total enrollment of 10,590. In 1992, there were 306 Native Americans on campus, or 2.49 percent of the UND student body. What at first appears to be an increase in the percentage of Native American students becomes, on closer scrutiny, an illusion created by changing demographics: “Much of the ‘progress’ shown to date is related to a sharp decline in White enrollment rather than to a large increase in the number of Indian students” (Vorland 2000). While it is true that the state legislature approved a Native American programs unit and an Indian studies program in the academic year 1976-77, federal funds made several academic programs available, such as INMED and Teacher Corps. Other programs targeting Native Americans were soon found in fields of study such as counseling, geography, library science, education, and educational administration (Rice 1992, 28). That most of these programs were in large part federally funded meant that state funds did not have to be shifted away from other UND programs (Vorland 2000). The information presented in the third paragraph reads like a justification for the use of the Fighting Sioux logo. The university, echoing the sentiments of many students, faculty members, and administrators, seems to be arguing that in exchange for the opportunity to become doctors, teachers, and members of other professions, Native American students should ignore the Fighting Sioux logo. Such an attitude is reflected in statements such as the following, the last paragraph in the official statement: The University of North Dakota is firmly committed to promoting an environment that emphasizes respect for diversity. In accordance with this commitment, the UND community is dedicated to respecting the past and present of the American Indians. Further information is available from the Native American Programs Office, the Vice President for Student Affairs, or the Office of University Relations. (University of North Dakota 1999a, 34)
This paragraph publicly proclaims the university’s pledge to “respect diversity.” Unless the reader is aware of the history of the Sioux people, the history of the Sioux logo, and the history of UND, it is difficult to argue with such words. History shows that the university is “committed to promoting . . . respect for diversity” as long as that commitment does not interfere with the use of the Fighting Sioux logo and the identity of the university. If a choice
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needs to be made between respect for diversity and the Fighting Sioux logo, recent history shows that the latter is given preference. Examples of how the Fighting Sioux logo contributes to an uncomfortable environment for tuition-paying Native American students who come from taxpaying families are fairly easy to come across. This “uncomfortable” environment includes everything from uneasiness about seeing Native American images on decals, pencils, notebooks, and shot glasses to exposure to verbal abuse at athletic events. The history of UND indicates that the interests of the university community are often opposed to those of minority groups, especially Native Americans. There is very little in the history of UND indicating that it promotes a “positive” campus climate for Native Americans. The Sammy Sioux logo, the ice sculptures incident in the 1970s, the ridiculing of Native American culture during the homecoming parade in 1992, offensive chants and yells at sporting events (Pedeliski 1997), and the verbal intimidation of students who openly protest the university’s use of the Sioux logo all indicate anything but a “positive campus climate” for Native Americans who question the university’s use of Indian symbols. Several students who have recently written against the use of the Fighting Sioux logo report having received threatening letters, caricatures of Indians, and other forms of communication whose purpose can only be to intimidate and silence (Brownstein 2001). In the 117-year history of UND, the university has documented one “hate crime”: in 1996, when the life of an Indian student was threatened after he had written an article calling for termination of the Fighting Sioux logo (Vorland 2000). No formal charges were ever brought against the person or persons responsible for the letter, which was sent anonymously. There have been other incidents, such as writers for the Dakota Student being threatened when advocating a change in the logo or simply calling for more respect of Native American culture and traditions. This climate is not confined to the university campus. In the larger community, a Native American writer for the Grand Forks Herald (its only Native American writer) received an e-mail referring to her as a “prairie nigger,” among other things, after she wrote a column calling for the retiring of the Sioux logo. The e-mail was traced to a UND student who when questioned by university officials claimed that someone else had used his account to send the message without his knowledge. The university never took action against the student or students responsible for sending the e-mail to the Herald writer (Doreen Yellowbird, personal communication, spring 1999). Incidents such as these and the lack of action on the part of university officials and city officials when students arguing against the Fighting Sioux logo are
threatened give a hollow ring to the rhetoric about a “promoting . . . respect for diversity.” Also contributing to a hostile environment are the chants at athletic events and other school-sponsored activities. Hockey and football games have become sites where offensive images of Native Americans are common. Students from NDSU show up at athletic events with cartoonish images of bison forcing themselves sexually on Native Americans. At “sporting” events, it is not uncommon to hear phrases such as “kill the Sioux,” “Sioux suck,” “fuck the Sioux,” and “rape Sioux women.” Such phrases, many Native American students claim, are a direct result of the Fighting Sioux logo. In fact, such phrases were the primary reason that the official statement points out in the second paragraph that Kendall Baker and UND should take steps to make certain that the Fighting Sioux logo should be respected. While violence and hostility toward Native Americans has a long history that precedes the Fighting Sioux logo, the attitudes such phrases promote contribute to and reinforce negative attitudes toward Native Americans. By refusing to change the conditions that make possible the shouting of such phrases and the display of such images in public, UND is communicating to Native American students and the rest of the population where Native Americans and Native American culture rank within the university culture.
Conclusion Official statements and documents are not free of values and beliefs. Rather, as has been demonstrated in this critical analysis of UND’s official statement on the Fighting Sioux logo, embedded in the words that make up official proclamations can be found many of the myths a community creates and tells itself. Myths are not only stories told by ancient cultures to explain their origins and developments; they can also be the stories we tell ourselves about how we live today. As expressions of culture and forms of communication, myths help justify the status quo and create a sense of belonging among those who share these stories. Examination of the Fighting Sioux myth within a historical context allows for a deeper understanding of this symbol. Such an examination helps us understand how the myth originated and why it continues to be important to some members of the university community. This article maintains that the myth about the Sioux logo is tied to the identity of the university and rooted in political, economic, and cultural developments. The myth about the Sioux logo found in official statements allows for the sharing of values and beliefs that developed in the absence of Native Americans on campus at a time when the relationship between European Americans and Native Americans was more openly antagonistic than it is today. The lan-
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guage of that myth, especially the use of such words as honor, pride, tradition, and respect, indicate that the relationship between Native Americans and European Americans has changed. It has changed in that the boundaries between the in-group and the out-group have become blurred. Today, Native Americans are not only studying at UND but have been responsible for increasing the school’s enrollment and contributing to its budget. Such changes went hand in hand with shifts in identity among Native Americans and between Native Americans and whites. How the university communicates its identity to the rest of the world today must include some of the ideas, beliefs, and values of Native Americans. The struggle over that identity shows how Native Americans are both included as members of the university community and excluded at the same time. Critical studies in communication often interrogate everyday practices to understand how communication is used to silence and marginalize certain groups. For example, there is little debate that derogatory terms such as redskin, squaw, and prairie nigger addressed to Native Americans are used to humiliate and create in Native Americans a sense of exclusion from white culture. Critical approaches to the study of communication can help us understand the relationship between such terms and the social, political, and economic conditions that make the use of such terms acceptable. They can also help us understand how altered social conditions are reflected in communication, especially official statements and documents. Such an approach inevitably leads to questions about power and its uses by different members of society. Far from being neutral or objective, official texts are manifestations of the process of negotiation among different groups that reflect how a community will define itself. Future studies in the area of college sports and the use of Native American mascots need to examine under what conditions teams have been willing to change their Native American names and symbols. Such information, together with careful analysis of the local histories of Native American college mascots, can be used to develop strategies for alternative forms of expression in university sports.
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Raúl Tovares (Ph.D., University of Texas, Austin, 1995) is an assistant professor in the Communication Program at Trinity College, Washington, D.C. He was previously on the faculty of the School of Communication at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. His research interests include television news production, ethnic minorities and mass communication, intercultural communication, and film theory.