Spirit Lake Tribe Sues NCAA - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Spirit Lake Tribe Sues NCAA

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Editor's note: The lawsuit asks that the NCAA's policy be stricken and that the organization pay punitive damages in the amount of $10 million.


News release from the Spirit Lake Tribe:

Below is the transcript of the official statement issued by Reed Soderstrom, esq., regarding the filing of a lawsuit in federal court by the Spirit Lake Tribal Nation against the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The Spirit Lake Nation is suing the NCAA over their policy on the use of Native American names and imagery by collegiate athletic teams, including the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.  

Statement by:   Reed Soderstrom, an attorney for the  Committee of Understanding & Respect, and Archie Fool Bear, individually and on behalf of the 1004+ Petitioners.

Today, the Spirit Lake Tribe of Indians, by and through its Committee of Understanding and Respect, and Archie Fool Bear, individually, and as Representative of more than 1004 Petitioners of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, filed a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association ( NCAA) in direct response to their attempt to take away and prevent the North Dakota Sioux Indians from giving their name forever to the University of North Dakota.

In 2009 the Spirit Lake tribe voted overwhelmingly to allow the University of North Dakota to continue using the name "Fighting Sioux."  In 1969, in a sacred & religious spiritual ceremony, the tribal leaders of the Standing Rock tribe granted perpetual use of the name "Fighting Sioux" to the University of North Dakota.

However, the NCAA has unilaterally decided that the name "Fighting Sioux" is derogatory to the very people who feel honored by the name – the North Dakota Sioux tribes.  The NCAA has declared, without input from the Dakota Sioux, that UND will be prevented from hosting any post-season sporting events; and is encouraging other universities to boycott UND if the University does not remove the name "Fighting Sioux" and the accompanying logo honoring the traditions and customs of the proud Dakota Sioux people.  These actions are a violation of the religious and first amendment rights of the Dakota Sioux tribes, and show the NCAA believes it knows the interests of the North Dakota Sioux community better than Sioux people themselves.

Though the NCAA has decided "Fighting Sioux" is derogatory, the NCAA supports the University of Illinois' use of the name "Fighting Illini," and the use by Florida State University of the name "Seminoles" along with the Seminole mascot – someone dressed in Native American attire who rides into the FSU stadium on a horse and throws a flaming spear before every home football game. The NCAA claims these are not derogatory depictions because the Illini people and the Seminole people approve of the use of the name and mascot.  Inexplicably, the NCAA fails to accept the tribal vote and the sacred religious ceremony as endorsements of the name "Fighting Sioux" by the North Dakota Sioux Nation.  The NCAA's actions violate Native American civil rights, equal protection rights, and religious rights.

The suit has been brought by the Spirit Lake Tribe's Committee of Understanding and Respect on behalf of the Spirit Lake Tribe, and by former Standing Rock Tribal Council member Archie Fool Bear on behalf of the more than 1000 members of the Standing Rock Tribe who signed a petition to reaffirm their support for the use of the name "Fighting Sioux".

Neither party has taken this step lightly. Indeed, it could possibly have been avoided had the NCAA only listened to the Dakota Sioux people, and recognized that the use of the Fighting Sioux name and likeness by UND for the past 80 years has been honorable and in keeping with Dakota Sioux culture and traditions. It is the NCAA who has dragged this matter out. They have had several opportunities since 2005 to realize their policy was in error, and either rescind it or grant UND an exception. The NCAA chose not to, and left the Dakota Sioux people no choice but to bring this legal action against them.



(More information can be found at www.savethefightingsioux.com)



The 2007 lawsuit settlement between the NCAA and UND was void ab initio. An agreement is said to be "void ab initio" if it has at no time had any legal validity. This is most certainly the case with the 2007 settlement, in part due to several of the below counts.



1.      COUNT ONE – The Plaintiffs were INDISPENSABLE PARTIES to the 2007 settlement, but were never included in negotiations on this settlement.

2.      COUNT TWO - BREACH OF CONTRACT: The NCAA failed to abide by the settlement term requiring Tribal contribution in determining the use of the "Fighting Sioux" name. This is a material breach, and fraudulent, rendering the Settlement Agreement  void.

3.      COUNT THREE – The NCAA is guilty of COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT as the Fighting Sioux logo is protected by federal copyright laws which predate and supersede the settlement agreement. Furthermore, the name "Sioux" is in the public domain and can legally be used by anyone, including UND. Namesake approval by the NCAA is not and never was, necessary.

4.      COUNT FOUR –LACK OF JURISDICTION: The NCAA lacks jurisdiction over matters of discrimination within colleges and universities. This matter clearly rests in the hands of the US Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights. The NCAA Constitution does not grant them the authority to dictate acceptable and unacceptable team names and images either.

5.      COUNT FIVE - VIOLATION OF THE INDIAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT: The NCAA, by its actions and attempt at misguided policy, has dismissed the tradition and ceremonies of the Sioux people, dismissing the Sioux people as a distinct and sovereign race in violation of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, 42 U.S.C. 1996.

6.      COUNT SIX – The NCAA's policy and actions are in violation of THE INDIAN CIVIL RIGHTS ACT

7.      COUNT SEVEN – Violation of 42 U.S.C. SEC. 1983 & 42 U.S..C. 2000d. The NCAA deprived the Plaintiffs of their rights as secured by the Constitution, and via exclusion discriminated against the Plaintiffs based on race.

8.      COUNT EIGHT – The NCAA action constitutes DEFAMATION of the Plaintiff. Their policy has soiled the name and reputation of the Sioux Nation. The NCAA's actions and omissions surrounding the lawsuit settlement were arrogant, condescending, and insulting to the Plaintiffs, constituting defamation. Their assertion the Plaintiffs name is hostile and abusive is defamatory.

9.      COUNT NINE - PUNITIVE DAMAGES:  Due to the malicious nature of the NCAA policy against the Plaintiffs, said actions warrant the recovery of punitive damages on behalf of Plaintiffs.

10.  COUNT TEN – The NCAA is in VIOLATION OF EQUAL PROTECTION OF LAWS. The NCAA allows other universities and tribes the right to use Native American names, logos imagery and even mascots, yet denies the same right for smaller universities and tribes in violation of the equal protection of the laws.

11.  COUNT ELEVEN – The NCAA's policy is an UNLAWFUL RESTRAINT ON TRADE, through exercising monopolistic control over the Plaintiffs in violation of the Sherman Act as set forth in 15 U.S.C. §1 and 2.

12.  COUNT TWELVE – Because of the intentional actions by the NCAA, its conduct results in an INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS on the Sioux people.


1.      For the NCAA Policy against Native American Imagery be stricken as unconstitutional and "hostile and abusive" against Plaintiffs.

2.      For the NCAA Policy be stricken for being outside and beyond the power or authority/ jurisdiction of the Defendant.

3.      For the NCAA Policy to be stricken as a violation of copyright and trademark laws.

4.      For the NCAA Policy to be stricken as against UND and Plaintiffs as a violation of the Native American Religious Freedom Act.

5.      For the NCAA Policy to be stricken due to the actions and omissions of the NCAA that in turn violated the Indian Civil Rights Act.

6.      For the NCAA Policy to be stricken due to its improper and unequal  application against other tribes and universities, in violation of the U.S. and state equal protection laws and constitutional provisions.

7.      For the NCAA Policy to be stricken due to its violation of U.S. and state Anti-trust provisions.

8.      For the NCAA to be required to adopt a policy that will actually promote Native American athletes and coaches into NCAA Division I athletics.

9.      For the NCAA to be required to adopt a policy that will involve Native Nations colleges to participate in NCAA sponsored events.

10.  For the NCAA to be required to adopt a policy that will actually encourage, promote and support Native American womens' athletics.

11.  For an immediate injunction prohibiting the NCAA from taking any actions or implementing any policies against UND or its use of the "Sioux" or "Fighting Sioux" names.

12.  For an immediate injunction enjoining the NCAA to take such actions as the court deems appropriate to honor and implement the resolutions and requests of the Plaintiffs.

13.  For the files of the State District Court action filed by the State of North Dakota against the NCAA, entitled State of North Dakota , et. al. vs. NCAA, Civ. No. 06-C-01333, be opened to Plaintiffs for purposes of discovery in this suit and transparency to the public in general.

14.  That the Federal Court uphold and recognize the religious significance of the 1969 ceremony and the sacred pipe as binding until revoked by authorized constitutional referendum pursuant to both North Dakota tribes that honor and use the Sioux name.

15.  For economic damages in an amount to be proven at trial.

16.  For non-economic damages in a reasonable amount but not less than $10,000,000.00 U.S.

17.  For all attorneys fees and costs to be paid by the NCAA.

18..  For other relief as this Court deems just and necessary.


The Spirit Lake Tribe will make an announcement Tuesday regarding the University of North Dakota's nickname.  A news release says the Tribal Council and Committee for Understanding and Respect will unveil their next step in their "ongoing efforts to preserve the use of the Fighting Sioux name and logo" at a news conference. 

UND has been ordered by the NCAA to dump the nickname, which it has deemed offensive to Native Americans.

Tribal member, Frank Black Cloud tells Valley News Live: "We're hoping our actions will convince U.N.D. to keep the name."

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