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North Dakota sells Fighting Sioux items to satisfy NCAA settlement

FARGO, N.D. -- Nearly four years after retiring Fighting Sioux mascot following criticism from Native Americans, the University of North Dakota briefly found itself back in the business of selling merchandise with a logo the NCAA had ruled hostile and abusive.

The reason is that a settlement agreement with the NCAA over the nickname required the school to keep the Fighting Sioux trademark, and the school felt the only way to do that was to market the product.

So a limited series of items known as the Dacotah Heritage Collection hit shelves last week. Most of them sold out within hours.

Interim North Dakota President Ed Schafer said it would be better if the school did not have to sell the old gear, especially now that UND is making the transition to its new nickname, the Fighting Hawks. He said the switch would not be effective if someone else obtains the trademark and floods the market with Fighting Sioux merchandise.

"You have to be able to prove that you've used that trademark in order to keep it," Schafer said. "You have to use it the same way that you have been using it."

NCAA officials did not respond to repeated email and phone messages.

The NCAA in 2005 placed UND on a list of schools with American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots that it found objectionable. UND was the last holdout on that list and filed a lawsuit to keep the name. That suit was settled in October 2007, and one of the terms involved keeping the trademark, UND spokesman Peter Johnson said.

Johnson said the university sold the license to a handful of stores to sell more than 9,000 pieces of merchandise, including more than 1,000 sweatshirts, 3,000 hats and 300 lanyards. Another rollout of limited items will likely take place later this year.

Schafer said the brisk sales that occurred mostly after word spread through social media shows both the value of the old gear and the desire by many longtime, loyal Fighting Sioux backers to ensure that history is not erased. Plus, he said, there's nothing else to buy at the moment.

"Right now people are holding on to the old one because there isn't an alternative," Schafer said. "There's nothing else there."

The school is working with a New York-based design firm to create a Fighting Hawks logo. Schafer said the agreement with SME Inc. should be finalized by Friday. In the meantime, the former North Dakota governor is downplaying some logo designs by fans and others that are circulating on the Internet.

"They all are incorporating some element of the old Fighting Sioux logo onto the Fighting Hawks," Schafer said. "And we're not going there."