Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Author Erdrich rejects UND honors over 'Fighting Sioux' nickname

Minnesota author Louise Erdrich has rejected an honorary degree from the University of North Dakota because it continues to use the "Fighting Sioux" team name and logo -- a contentious and litigious issue in Grand Forks.

In a letter to university President Charles Kupchella, Erdrich -- who has American Indian roots -- said that the offer means "a great deal" to her and that she would happily accept, were it not for the logo.

With that, the award-winning Minneapolis author of 11 novels and numerous other works joined a battle over whether the university should drop its logo and nickname. Last fall, university officials sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association over its finding that use of the logo and name is "hostile" and "abusive." A trial is set for December.

Kupchella expressed surprise and disappointment Thursday night, saying Erdrich's nomination came from some of the faculty members in Indian programs. He defends the logo as a beautiful symbol designed by a respected Indian artist. The university uses the name Fighting Sioux with "consummate respect" and the nearest Sioux tribe has given written permission, he has said.

Erdrich grew up in North Dakota, a state she says she still loves and where her nieces and nephew still live. The University of North Dakota educated members of her family and of her tribe, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

"I hate to do something like this," she said Thursday night. "It goes against my grain. But I do feel strongly about this symbol."