BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The University of North Dakota will resume using its contentious Fighting Sioux nickname despite threats from the NCAA, the school's president said Wednesday, marking the latest twist in a years-long fight about a name that some consider offensive.
A state law was repealed last year that required the university to use the nickname and a logo that shows the profile of an American Indian warrior. But supporters of the name filed petitions late Tuesday demanding that the issue be put to a statewide vote.
University President Robert Kelley said the school decided to resume using the name and logo to respect the state's referendum process, which requires that the pro-nickname law be in effect while the state reviews the petition signatures.
"I want to reaffirm our respect for the laws of the state and the processes guaranteed under the North Dakota Constitution," Kelley said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon.
The NCAA has told the university that continued use of the nickname and logo would expose the school to sanctions, including preventing the university from hosting post-season sports tournaments and banning its athletes from wearing uniforms with the logo or nickname in postseason play.
An email and phone message left for NCAA spokesman Bill Williams weren't immediately returned Wednesday.
The dispute began in 2006, when the NCAA called on 19 schools with American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots that it considered "hostile and abusive" to Indians. The University of North Dakota is the only school left where the issue is in serious dispute.
The college sports governing body ordered the schools to change their nicknames or obtain permission from local tribes to keep using them. Most changed their names, although the Florida State Seminoles and the Central Michigan Chippewas were among the schools that got tribal permission to keep their nicknames.
North Dakota challenged the NCAA edict in court. In a settlement, the school agreed to begin retiring its nickname if it could not obtain consent to continue its use from North Dakota's Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes by Nov. 30, 2010.
Spirit Lake tribal members endorsed the name. But the Standing Rock Sioux's tribal council, which opposed the nickname, has declined to support it or to allow its tribal members to vote.
Supporters of the nickname, including some members of the Standing Rock Sioux, said they turned in petitions with more than 17,000 signatures; the required minimum is 13,452 names. Under the referendum process detailed in the North Dakota Constitution, the pro-nickname law must remain in force while Secretary of State Al Jaeger reviews the petitions.