William Brotherton: UND Should Forget Expensive New Branding Effort

UND Interim President Ed Schafer models a tee shirt with the new UND Fighting Hawks logo during its unveiling. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

I nearly choked on my coffee when I saw that UND’s President Kennedy wanting to spend $3 million to develop a “brand” for UND.

Is this the same school that is demolishing eight buildings on campus, eliminating sports programs left and right, and raising tuition? As a proud University of North Dakota graduate, I cannot believe my beloved alma mater has embarked on such a path of self-destruction.

Why in the world would UND want to spend money to develop a brand based on a hated politically correct nickname? Let’s briefly review some of the history of how we got this post office mascot. Since 1932, UND had used the name Fighting Sioux proudly. Both the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux, the two Sioux nations in North Dakota, had conveyed the name in a Chanupa (sacred pipe) ceremony on campus in 1969. The president of UND participated wholeheartedly and American Indian scholarships at UND were set up. It was the type of partnership that we should have at UND today.

Suspend any development of rebranding UND and freeze any associated spending. Instead, let’s look at simply going back to being UND and North Dakota like we were before the Hawks name was dumped on us.

When former president Bob Kelly attempted to ram a new name down the throats of alumni, students and supporters, we filed suit to stop the nickname vote. All we had asked was that the nickname vote be suspended and that the school continue to use the UND symbol and the North Dakota name. The majority clearly wanted that option in the vote but Bob Kelly had rejected it. He wanted a new name thinking that once the new name was in place, UND would forget about the Fighting Sioux name.

That hasn’t happened, has it?

People were betrayed by Bob Kelly and the school leadership. That’s why there’s such a malaise hovering all around UND. And its why donors have stopped giving. That’s a big reason why all of a sudden, UND has such overwhelming money problems.

I have a modest proposal. Suspend any development of rebranding UND and freeze any associated spending. Instead, let’s look at simply going back to being UND and North Dakota like we were before the Hawks name was dumped on us.

The relationship between Standing Rock and North Dakota is probably at its lowest point in 100 years, because of the Dakota Access protest and the millions of dollars spent by North Dakota on law enforcement to police the protest. The Prairie Knights casino on the reservation lost $6 million in 2016 as a result of the protest. That money is desperately needed by the Standing Rock tribal members and there is no replacement for the money in sight. Hard times are ahead.

How can we try and fix this? Reestablish the relationship between the University of North Dakota and the Sioux nations. And establish a partnership to bring back the Sioux name for UND. Spirit Lake voted to approve the Fighting Sioux name and that vote has never been rescinded. The leadership at Standing Rock would never allow a vote to be taken.

It’s an open secret that Hawks merchandise is not selling. Conversely, when the University and licensed vendors were selling Sioux merchandise, the revenues were second only to the Florida State Seminoles and every sports fan in the world associated the University of North Dakota and the Sioux. Imagine the excitement and the potential for revenues to be shared between UND and the Sioux if the Fighting Sioux name were to reappear.

Both UND and Standing Rock are suffering from financial hardship. New leadership is coming at Standing Rock and now is the time to sit down and meet to see how we can develop not only a new relationship, but a genuine partnership to bring back the only true brand for the University of North Dakota, the Fighting Sioux name.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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