Last week North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp signed on with 50 other Senate Democrats to a letter urging NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to force a name change for the Washington Redskins.
It was a strongly-worded letter, calling the “Redskins” moniker a “racial slur” and suggesting that the team and the NFL are on the “wrong side of history” when they support it.
But North Dakota has had its own very high-profile battle over a Native American nickname. A group of students, some of them from the University of North Dakota, wore t-shirts bearing the term “Siouxper Drunk” to a City of Grand Forks event and re-ignited the battle over that institutions now-retired nickname. A group of activists protested on campus before the holiday demanding that the nickname, which they equate with racism, be formally denounced by the university and support for it banished from campus.
They threatened a boycott of the university if their demands aren’t met. “All tribes within North Dakota and surrounding States will be contacted to encourage their students to attend other colleges and universities,” Emmy Scott, a UND student and one of the organizers of the protests, told Valley News Live.
To my knowledge, Senator Heitkamp – who has positioned herself as a champion of Native American causes – hasn’t spoken out on the UND nickname.
Maybe that’s because the politics of the Fighting Sioux nickname are more complicated than those of the Redskins nickname, with most in North Dakota including at least one actual Sioux Tribe (the people of the Spirit Lake reservation) supporting the nickname.
And Heitkamp is, above everything else, a calculating politician.
But we can get a hint when it comes to Heitkamp’s feelings about the Fighting Sioux. Over the holiday weekend a reader sent in the picture below of Senator Heitakmp at the NCAA Frozen Four tournament earlier this year (as evidenced by the hat Heitkamp is wearing). In the picture, taken at a UND game in the tournament that Heitkamp attended, you can clearly see she’s wearing a Univerity of North Dakota shirt with the “Sioux” nickname on it.
Something tells me that the Native American interests Heitkamp was appeasing by signing on to the anti-Redskins letter might not be so pleased to see her sporting merchandise with another Native American sports nickname on it.
Of course, Heitkamp’s support of the Fighting Sioux nickname (muted as it is) puts her in line with most North Dakotans who see no problem with the nickname, but certainly not her left-wing base.