UTTC Speech Archives

A Letter to the NCAA from David M. Gipp, President, UTTC
8 August 2005

Below is the text of a July 2005 letter by David M. Gipp, United Tribes Technical College president, in the process of the NCAA action regarding the use of an American Indian logo at the University of North Dakota.

July 13, 2005

NCAA Executive Subcommittee on Gender and Diversity
NCAA Executive Committee
Attn: Myles Brand, President
National Collegiate Athletic Association
P.O. Box 6222
Indianapolis, Indiana 46206-6222

Re: Team names of NCAA schools that are disrespectful of American Indian tribes and their members - from a graduate of the University of North Dakota, and the President of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota

Dear President Brand:

Soon, the Executive Committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and your Subcommittee on Gender and Diversity will be considering a subject that should not be an issue in 21st century America - the use of stereotypical and often linguistically inaccurate racial names for athletic teams whose host schools are members of the NCAA. I am an American Indian, a Lakota member of the Standing Rock Tribe in North and South Dakota, and am President of United Tribes Technical College which provides on an annual basis almost 1,000 American Indians from throughout the United States with postsecondary career technical education on a campus located near Bismarck, North Dakota. Our College is governed by the Tribal Chairs and another representative from each of the five Indian Tribes with a presence in North Dakota. These Tribes include the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyaté, the Three Affiliated Tribes, and the Spirit Lake Tribe.

I am also a graduate of the University of North Dakota, Class of 1969. Our College and its Board of Directors have been following closely the process, called a "self-study", that the NCAA has invited the University of North Dakota (UND) to conduct regarding their continued use of the derogatory term "Sioux" as the name of their athletic teams, along with the caricature of an American Indian used as the mascot for these teams.

Our Board of Directors has gone on record on several occasions in opposition to the continued use of the name "Sioux" by UND and has not changed its mind as a result of the "self-study" by UND, which I consider to be entirely self-serving and intellectually dishonest. Among other things, our Board points out in one of our resolutions of opposition to the name being used at UND that the word "Sioux" is not a name that the Lakota and Dakota peoples of the Great Plains ever called themselves; it is generally considered a corruption of a French word meaning "little snake". The word we use to describe ourselves, "Lakota", or in another dialect, "Dakota", means "ally", or "friend". The Lakota and Dakota peoples are not "honored" by use of the name "Sioux", it 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.

What is particularly troubling is that the University of North Dakota has virtually ignored the position of the Tribes and the Indian community within the state in which it is located and continues, instead, to insist on the use of the "Sioux" nickname. UND insists that the nickname is an attempt to "honor" the "warrior" spirit of the native peoples of North Dakota. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This attitude of the University perpetuates stereotypical notions of indigenous peoples in the United States, everywhere the UND team plays. As the NCAA is well aware, UND has a long tradition of being competitive in several sports at the NCAA Division I level, particularly ice hockey. I believe there should be some consequences for essentially promoting a racially biased point of view by use of a derogatory stereotypical name for sports teams, and I also believe that the NCAA is in a position to do something about it.

It is for these reasons, among others discussed further below, that I support the "Minority Report" submitted to you and your subcommittee. This Report, largely authored by Leigh Jeanotte, a long time instructor at UND and a close associate of mine on issues such as the Indians Into Medicine program at UND, makes it plain that the continued controversy over the use of the "Sioux" nickname is largely responsible for a continuing and dangerously racially charged atmosphere on the UND campus, attended by several hundred American Indians among its students.

In the Minority Report, Mr. Jeannotte details many campus racial incidents that the "self-study" failed to mention. Perhaps most troubling is that the "self-study" failed to consider the comments and concerns made by Native American faculty and staff to the self-study committee members. Much of the racial tension present on campus could be dissipated if UND and its leadership finally did what more than 2000 colleges, universities, high schools and other schools have done in the past 35 years, and that is change their name to something that is not offensive to a racial minority. It is that simple.

Many will no doubt argue to you that the reasons for the racial tensions at places like UND and the University of Illinois relate to the activists, like myself, who continue to clamor for a change in the name, not the use of the nickname itself. Of course, racism does not originate in a sports team nickname, but it certainly provides a good excuse for continuing racial stereotypes that demean American Indians, who are very much still alive and present in their homelands across the United States. Removing the nickname removes one more excuse for being racist or harboring racist sentiments.

But removing the nickname is not only the right thing to do, it is also a position that should be mandated by the NCAA. The NCAA should have no place in its tournaments for teams whose nickname is racially derogatory. The NCAA would not, I suspect, tolerate a team named the Mississippi State Darkies, or the Arkansas Niggers, the Brooklyn College Kikes, or the San Francisco State Chinks. The "Sioux" nickname is racially derogatory, and American Indians, at any place they reside within the United States, should not be expected to have to accept a derogatory nickname rubbed in their faces every time they read the sports pages or hear about the successes of the University of North Dakota any more than African-Americans or Jewish-Americans or Asian-Americans would want to have their races stereotyped with a caricature and a derogatory team name. Again, your organization can do something about it.

The "Sioux" nickname controversy is linked, of course, with a major benefactor of the University of North Dakota, Ralph Englestad. Just at the point several years ago when the present President of UND, Mr. Kupcella, was announcing to tribal leaders that the University was considering phasing out the nickname, Mr. Englestad wrote a letter to North Dakota's Board of Higher Education, which oversees the state university system, saying that if the nickname was changed, he would not complete the hockey arena then being constructed at a cost of $100 million. The Englestad Arena (known locally as the "Ralph"), is emblazoned throughout with the "Sioux" logo. After receiving the letter, and then calling a meeting with very little notice, the Board of Higher Education stated emphatically it would not change the nickname of the University of North Dakota.

Shortly thereafter, I appeared on the ESPN show "Outside the Lines" to again make the point that despite Mr. Englestad's threat, the nickname and logo needed to be removed. The moderator of the show pointed out in his introduction that the Nevada Gaming Control Board disciplined and fined Ralph Englestad, then the owner of the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas and now deceased, for holding a 100th birthday party honoring Adolph Hitler. The clear implication of this introduction by the ESPN host is that it will take some strong measures from the NCAA acting to discipline one of its member universities for promoting racial stereotypes against American Indians.

This is why your decision is so critical. Your organization can make the difference. Your organization can make it plain that until UND changes the nickname of its sports teams, NCAA will not allow these games to be broadcast on television or radio with the sponsorship of the NCAA, or that the teams will not be able to participate in the NCAA tournaments, or other appropriate sanctions. Simply taking no action should not be an option.

You are the sanctioning body for major school college athletics. Please, I urge you to take action and help force the University of North Dakota to do what it should have done a long time ago: get rid of a nickname and logo that is offensive and derogatory to American Indians.

Please feel free to contact me at your convenience. My office number is listed above.

Sincerely yours,

David M. Gipp
United Tribes Technical College