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Judge throws out tribes' lawsuit on Sioux nickname

Associated Press Modified: May 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm •  Published: May 2, 2012

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A judge has thrown out a federal lawsuit by a committee of tribal members trying to save the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname, an issue that has been debated on several fronts since the NCAA in 2005 declared the moniker hostile and abusive.

The suit was filed against the NCAA by several members of the Spirit Lake Sioux tribe and one member of the Standing Rock Sioux. It asked for at least $10 million and a reversal of the NCAA policy banning the use of American Indian imagery in post-season competition.

The NCAA filed a motion in December to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the tribes lacked standing to bring it and their claims that the tribes' civil and religious rights were violated are not supported by facts. A federal judge ruled late Tuesday in favor of the governing body of college athletics.

Reed Soderstrom, the tribal committee's lawyer, said he planned to meet with other attorneys to see if there's a "crack in the door" for an appeal.

"It has been a rough day, but there were no guarantees," Soderstrom said.

NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said in a statement that the court made the right decision and "agreed that the plaintiffs had no viable claims, their rights were not violated and the NCAA's championships policies are lawful."

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson, a graduate of the UND law school, began his written explanation by summarizing the firestorm that has divided supporters of the Grand Forks university.

"Spanning a spectrum of protests for and against the name, tribal resolutions, state laws and fierce public debate, the NCAA's championship policy has created significant turmoil with the state of North Dakota over the propriety and continued use of the Fighting Sioux nickname," Erickson wrote.

The fight began when the NCAA told 19 schools to get rid of American Indian nicknames or risk sanctions. Some of the schools got permission from namesake tribes and were allowed to keep the nickname. UND received approval from Spirit Lake, but Standing Rock refused to hold a vote on the issue.

The North Dakota Legislature opted to take on the NCAA, passing a bill in early 2011 requiring UND to use the nickname and Indian head logo. The law was repealed eight months later after NCAA officials told state representatives it would not budge on penalties.

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