Members of the Public Service Commission Wearing “Fighting Sioux” Jerseys Is Hardly Scandalous

From left to right, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, former Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann

My colleague Mike McFeely sees scandal in a photo of Julie Fedorchak and Randy Christmann, collectively two-thirds of North Dakota’s Public Service Commission, wearing old “Fighting Sioux” jerseys from the University of North Dakota.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know UND retired the nickname/logo after years of squabbling over its supposed offensiveness, ultimately replacing it with the utterly boring but admittedly less provocative “Fighting Hawks” moniker. The buzz in political circles is that Fedorchak and Christmann wore the jerseys as a jest, because Kalk is an ardent fan of the NDSU Bison but will be going to work for UND.

McFeely seems to think Fedorchak and Christmann, members of an agency which oversaw our state’s regulation of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, are guilty of something akin to wearing a racial slur emblazoned across their chests.

“Maybe this is why Standing Rock doesn’t trust the ND Public Service Commission,” his headline reads. Standing Rock, of course, has been bitterly opposed to the pipeline.

McFeely’s case is unconvincing for a number of reasons.

Standing Rock does not represent all of the Sioux people living in North Dakota. The Spirit Lake Nation cast a “surprisingly lopsided” vote in favor of the logo/nickname in 2009. Over 67 percent of tribal members who voted were in favor of UND keeping the logo/nickname.

First, the nature of Standing Rock’s opposition to the nickname is anything but uniform. “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council voted by 10-4 margin in 2010 to disallow UND further use of the nickname,” McFeely writes. Which is true, and that’s certainly a majority, but it also means 28 percent of the council wanted UND to keep using the nickname/logo.

It’s hard to argue that something is self evidently offensive when 40 percent of an elected body representing those who are supposed to be offended disagree.

Second, we don’t actually know how the Standing Rock people, beyond their tribal government, felt about the logo/nickname. The tribal council never allowed a balloting to happen. Which is too bad. I think, if the people of Standing Rock had been allowed to speak directly on the issue, it would have gone a long way toward settling the controversy one way or another.

Third, Standing Rock does not represent all of the Sioux people living in North Dakota. The Spirit Lake Nation cast a “surprisingly lopsided” vote in favor of the logo/nickname in 2009. Over 67 percent of tribal members who voted were in favor of UND keeping the logo/nickname.

What’s more, the Spirit Lake tribal government actually sued the NCAA to keep the nickname. Their lawsuit wasn’t successful, but their convictions were clear.

When I was writing about the “Fighting Sioux” controversy I spent a lot of time talking to supporters in the Native American communities. Today many of those people, who continue to regret the nickname’s retirement, oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Those folks see little connection between the nickname and pipeline issues. I’m not sure why we should, either.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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