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Fargo federal judge tosses out Sioux lawsuit to preserve UND nickname

GRAND FORKS - U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson has granted the NCAA's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe, a major setback to American Indians trying to preserve the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname.

Erickson filed his order late Tuesday in Fargo, where lawyers for the two sides had presented oral arguments on April 19.

The Spirit Lake Sioux, through its Committee for Understanding and Respect, had asked the court to overturn the NCAA's 2005 policy discouraging the use of American Indian names and imagery by member schools.

They also argued that they and the Standing Rock Sioux were "indispensable parties" to the 2007 agreement settling a lawsuit brought by UND against the athletics association, and that they have been wrongly excluded from negotiations concerning that settlement.

In his 23-page opinion, Erickson held that none of the several counts brought by the committee state a sufficient legal claim under federal law.

"Many of the counts are entirely without merit, and the ones that could potentially have been meritorious could only have properly been brought by UND," Erickson wrote.

"As a voluntary, private organization, the NCAA was free to implement the policies it saw fit for governing its events, no matter how provident or improvident that policies may have been," he wrote.

Neither the Spirit Lake Sioux nor Archie Fool Bear, a pro-nickname member of the Standing Rock tribe, is a member of the NCAA, the judge wrote, "and their lack of standing is a fatal flaw in nearly every count dismissed in this order."