08 February 2012

An Open Letter to the State of North Dakota

Dear North Dakota,

First, my sympathies. I understand your state is a vast wilderness--er...field of...well, whatever the hell is there. I understand that living in the "Flickertail State," the state that ranks 48th in population, with no major cities, tourist attractions, or major sports franchises, has likely made you all a little crazy.  But hey, when the only fact outsiders remember about your state is that "it's the one that doesn't have Mount Rushmore, right?" I can imagine feathers start to get ruffled. 

But alas, North Dakota, you do have a claim to fame. You have a notoriously successful college hockey team, a team that has turned out an astonishing number of talented athletes. It's a tradition any school could be proud of. But unfortunately, North Dakota, your talented team is marred by the controversy surrounding your school mascot: The Fighting Sioux. And if the offensive nickname wasn't enough, when your state was asked to change their racist mascot by the NCAA, you crazy cats passed a state law requiring the school to keep the name. Because in a state like North Dakota, there's no such thing as an overreaction. Apparently.

I'm attempting to set aside the fact that I do, personally, believe that Native American nicknames not sanctioned by the tribes they are supposed to represent are offensive. My real issue is that, despite NCAA pressure, negative national media attention, sanctions, and the repeated protests of the local Sioux band, you continue to cling the nickname, blindly insisting it's a tradition meant to honor your heritage. Never mind the fact that North Dakota is over 90% white, or the fact that the people the logo is meant to honor find it offensive. Nope, that's not it.

It's the $100 million dollar hockey arena. A beautiful, state-of-the-art arena built with money donated by Ralph Englestad, a man who celebrated Hitler's birthday on several occassions. A man who, when he learned his alma mater was considering changing the nickname to comply with the NCAA ruling, threatened to pull funding for the new arena unless the name stayed. So what did this noble institution of higher learning decide to do? This bastion of ethical and civic preparation for future generations?

It caved to blackmail. Of course.

Do you know how many zeroes are in 100 million?

And so, seven years later, the state continues to fight a battle that can--at best--be described as a public relations nightmare and at worst as a stubbornly racist refusal to join the 21st century. I understand your nickname is a part of your tradition--and that that tradition is one of the precious few your 683,000 residents strong state has to celebrate. I understand you are proud of your team and your past.

But your pride is misplaced--you have other things to be proud of. I mean, your state has more churches per capita than any other in the country! And you do have a major university with a talented sports team. It's not the logo that brings you honor. Move into the new century and allow your school to move forward unencumbered by the controversy so your talent and accomplishments make CNN, not your insistence that "it's not really that racist." You're holding yourselves back. And shame on you for that.

I respect teams like the Seminoles in Florida, who were granted permission from local Seminole tribes to keep their name. But as an institution of higher education, the onus was on the school's administration to resist the blackmail by a crazy Nazi-lover and make the right decision, not one colored by greed for a new sports arena. UND made the wrong choice. It is not so much the mascot that I find offensive as the reasons behind the continued use of it. And that, coming from a university that should know better, is unforgivable.

And, you know . . . it is racist.

So to end this letter, I ask you--you crazy NoDaks--to give up the madness. Let your team and your university speak for themselves. Let them speak louder than their mascot for the first time in 82 years.

Besides, I think "Go Flickertails" has a nice ring to it.