It’s college World Series time here in Omaha, and the city is transformed to an interstate fair, with the city crawling with Titans, Tar Heels, Eagles, Sun Devils, Long Horns, Cavaliers, and Razorbacks. The Arkansas cheer, “Soooooiiiieeeee” resounds through the Old Market area after successful outings for the Razorbacks at the Park and, of course, a few cold beers.
All the nicknames of the competing teams are proper, and it’s all very civilized -- not an Indian in sight. No offensive names like Seminoles, Sioux, Chippewa, Aztecs, and the like. Even names like Warriors, which could mean Polynesian or Nordics, have been extricated. In all sports those names are going the way of the Edsel and, unless the PETA folks get all het up about all those fuzzy animal mascots -- all the bloody arenas of intercollegiate competition will now be politically purified.
Now that the Fighting Sioux no longer lives on the campus of the University of North Dakota, nor in the cellar of whatever conference UND plays in, things will be strangely quiet on the Northern Plains. I’m going to miss it, and Indian newspapers are going to find much empty space, especially on their op-ed pages.
Now comes the interesting process of selecting a new name and mascot for the University of North Dakota. I had suggested before that Mad Russians, Terrible Swedes, German Invasion, or Bouncing Czechs might better reflect the demographics of the state.
Someone from Rosebud suggested a long time ago that UND should just adopt the nickname of the “Fighting Little Snakes.” The word Sioux is derived from the Chippewa word Nadoweesiou, which means “lesser adder,” or little snake. The name Fighting Little Snakes would be at least a symbolic victory for the Fighting Sioux die-hards. In the meantime, while they’re sulking and grumbling about us pesky savages taking away their mascot, let’s give them some assistance. Let’s help them find another name.
High schools are a source of some clever names. My favorite one is the team of the little town of Belfry, Montana. You guessed it, they’re the Bats. And Papillion here in Nebraska was very clever in selecting their name. The word papillion is French for butterfly but let’s face it, a team averaging 300 lbs on the offensive line should not be called the Butterflies. So they picked the name of the king of the species – Monarchs. On the other hand, the suburban Omaha town of Benson has taken the name Bunnies; but don’t laugh at them because they regularly turn out monsters for the Nebraska Huskers football team.
The University of Nebraska team went by the name of Bug-eaters for years before they adopted the more mundane Cornhuskers. Most fans out here have shucked the first half of the name and just call them Huskers, which sounds less pastoral and more virile. When they start winning again, maybe they’ll again be called Big Red.
In the NFL, Washington should follow the example of neighboring Baltimore. The nickname Baltimore Ravens ought to get some prize for creativity; it is derived from the bird in the poem by the city’s favorite son, Edgar Allen Poe. But those damn Redskins just keep flipping us the bird and beating us in court to keep their ugly and hateful name.
Back to the University of North Dakota, I myself was never offended by their name the Fighting Sioux. And I think there are many Lakotas, Dakotas and Nakotas who feel as I do about it, both on the UND campus and elsewhere. It is an apt name, and if you want proof, just go to a Council meeting on any reservation in North or South Dakota. It anything, the name is a redundancy.
I think UND betrayed the noble name, for if they were really like the Fighting Sioux, they would still be sporting the name. The process of finally consulting the tribes, and even asking that the issue be brought to a vote on the reservations should have been done in the first place, and would have proven interesting. And a good negotiator for the tribes could have gained much in scholarships and programs for Native students as a trade-off for the use of the name.
Those that put up such a ruckus against names that offend them, especially those from outside the campus, work hard to get Native students to feel appropriately offended (most of whom are too busy being students and studying to notice). Those perpetually-offended circuit riders are disappearing Native America off the map faster than the US Government ever could with warfare, boarding schools, missionaries, and relocation programs.
Oh well, what is past is past. But, I still would like to hear from readers with suggestions for a new name for the folks up at the University of North Dakota. Think about it, and keep it clean, please. What is North Dakota noted for? Being the flattest state, maybe their nickname should be “The Wind;” or the redundant “Blowing Wind;” or better yet, how about “Breaking Wind?” The natural motto “Wind Power” would have the very “in” green image. Along with a million-dollar honorarium, they might even get Al Gore to give a commencement address.
Send me your suggestions for names. Send them to me at email@example.com, or to the Blog on my website: iktomisweb.com.
Charles Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association
in 1970, and served as executive director of the National Congress of American
Indians from 1972-78. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at iktomisweb.com
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