Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Dispute of Great Spirit Rages On

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Embedded in the granite floor inside the main entrance to Ralph Engelstad Arena, an enormous American Indian-head logo spreads like a welcome mat in front of the larger-than-life statue of Engelstad himself.

Every night that the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux men's hockey team plays in its $104 million arena, thousands of fans walk across the likeness of the handsome Sioux face in profile, with its four eagle feathers attached to the crown of the head.

It is humiliating to many of the school's Indian students and faculty members who consider eagle feathers sacred.

"We see the eagle as a messenger," said Margaret Scott, a sophomore nursing student from the Winnebago tribe in Nebraska. "It flies so close to the heavens, he carries the messages and prayers of the people to God. In our culture, eagle feathers can't touch the ground.

"It's like if you put a cross on a shot glass. What they're doing is sacrilegious."

As the N.C.A.A. begins enforcing a ban on Indian imagery that it considers "hostile or abusive," the North Dakota arena and its logo pointedly illustrate the passions surrounding the issue, and the complexities, both political and financial, in resolving it.