GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) -- The University of North Dakota will appeal an NCAA edict that the school's Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian head logo demean American Indians, President Charles Kupchella said.
However, UND first needs details about why the NCAA considers the nickname and logo to be unacceptable, Kupchella said Friday in a letter to its president, Myles Brand.
"In considering how to appeal, we find it exasperating that we can't tell what the basis for your initial decision was, and how you singled us out in the first place," the letter says.
If the NCAA rejects the university's appeal, it may sue, Kupchella said during a news conference Friday. Other affected schools, including Florida State University and the University of Illinois, have vowed to fight the NCAA's decision.
Last week, the NCAA included UND on a list of 18 member schools with Indian nicknames, logos or mascots that are considered "hostile" and "abusive." The logo, which was unveiled in 1999, was designed by an artist who is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
Asked for comment Friday, an NCAA spokesman sent a statement saying the decision "was the result of an exhaustive four-year process that considered information from many sources." Each affected college, the statement says, "has a clear road map for appealing" by Feb. 1.
The NCAA's edict has some backing in North Dakota, and Kupchella himself, in his first years as UND president, said he would support dropping the nickname and logo.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has previously asked UND to stop using the nickname and logo. David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck and an UND alumnus, said in his own letter to Brand last month that the Sioux nickname "perpetuates stereotypical notions of indigenous peoples in the United States, everywhere the UND team plays."
Sioux tribes use the name "Lakota" or "Dakota," which means friend or ally, to describe themselves, Gipp wrote. Sioux is a derivation of a French word that means "little snake," he said.
Sioux "is a despicable nickname, and is equivalent to African-Americans being referenced by any of a number of terms that are entirely in disrepute today," Gipp wrote.
In March, UND is hosting the NCAA West Region men's hockey playoff tournament at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, which has thousands of logos as part of its decor. The new rules would require the arena's logos and Fighting Sioux references to be covered during the tournament.
Kupchella said such a move would signal that UND is ashamed of its logo and nickname.
"I can't even comprehend, even fathom, asking the Engelstad Arena to do that," he said. "Not because of any physical impossibility or difficulty, but because of the very idea. It would just imply all kinds of things that we're not willing to have implied."
The NCAA's logic would not allow UND teams to call themselves the "Dakotans," Kupchella said.
"We were stunned, I must say, by the charge of 'abusive' and 'hostile,' then we were angry that this was being done in such an indiscriminate way," he said.
Kupchella was hired as UND's president in April 1999. The following year, he appointed a special commission to study the controversy. In December 2000, he sent an e-mail to William Isaacson, who was then president of the Board of Higher Education, saying that he saw "no choice but to respect the request by Sioux tribes that we quit using their name."
The board voted to keep the name and logo after Engelstad himself, who donated $100 million to build the arena, wrote a letter to members saying he would halt the project if the nickname and logo were dropped. Engelstad died in November 2002.
Kupchella said Friday he has not talked to members of the Board of Higher Education about the new dispute. Robert Potts, chancellor of North Dakota's university system, said the board considers the matter something for UND to handle.
"Our position right now is, we think that the questions that are raised in the letter are valid questions, and we'd like the NCAA to respond to the campus," Potts said. "(Kupchella) will report to me, and we'll share that with the board."
Kupchella said the university has presented the nickname and logo in a respectful light. UND offers 25 programs tailored to American Indian students, including initiatives to encourage study of medicine, nursing and clinical psychology, he said.
"What stings me as president is, I've spent a lot of my personal time and energy at trying to live up to this notion of what we do respectfully," Kupchella said. "And nothing that I've seen tells me that we've had any violation of that that's gone unchallenged or unaddressed here, since I've been here as president."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.