Ex-Bismarck mayor fights to save Fighting Sioux nickname

Even as one man wages a quixotic campaign against politically correct team mascots at the University of North Dakota, the University of Oklahoma’s “Sooners” nickname is now under fire.

At UND, former Bismarck mayor Marlan “Hawk” Haakenson is attempting to derail the process of selecting a replacement for the retired “Fighting Sioux” mascot by taking out registered trademarks on the names being considered, The Bismarck Tribune reported Monday.

UND retired the old nickname in 2012 following a successful ballot initiative carried out under the cloud of threatened NCAA sanctions; in July, an 11-member “nickname committee” narrowed thousands of suggested alternatives down to a list of just five: Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Roughriders, and Sundogs.

A sixth option favored by supporters of the Fighting Sioux nickname—continued use of the “UND/North Dakota” designation the school’s teams have been using since 2012—was rejected by the committee.

UND stakeholders will vote at a later date to select a new mascot from the list, but Haakenson is hoping that his gambit will preclude the school from adopting any of the options. Although his alma mater is UND rival North Dakota State University, Haakenson says he is motivated not by a desire to inconvenience UND, but rather by his support for the Fighting Sioux nickname.

“As far as I'm concerned, [UND President Robert] Kelley will never get permission from me," Haakenson told The Tribune. "I'll use every legal means I have to stop him from using the names.”

Haakenson claims he filed paperwork with the North Dakota Secretary of State on September 4 to register all five trade names, and that the trademarks Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, and North Stars were officially registered Monday. Secretary of State Al Jaeger rejected his applications to trademark Roughriders and Sundogs, however, because they are too similar to existing trade names.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson told The Tribune that the school is not concerned about the trademarks, believing they will not affect its ability to use any of the proposed nicknames because they are registered as real estate trade names.

“We would not be engaging in any real estate activity (using the trade names) so that shouldn't be an issue for us," Johnson said. "It's not uncommon to have the same name among sports teams. But it's even more common to have the same names in different endeavors."

Haakenson, for his part, remains optimistic about the effort to restore the Fighting Sioux moniker, saying, “I will predict that sometime in the future, maybe long after I'm dead and gone, the name will come back.”

Further south, however, momentum appears to be building in the opposite direction at the University of Oklahoma, where an annual social justice symposium dropped the word “Sooners” from its title in response to concerns that the nickname might be offensive to some.

Kathy Moxley, director of the OU Women's Outreach Center, told OU Daily last week that the Center decided in May to change the title of the annual event formerly known as “Sooner Mosaic: Social Justice Symposium” after receiving criticism from students and faculty.

“We understand that there are different feelings on the title, but since the symposium is about all different voices being heard, we really just wanted to be responsive to that," Moxley explained. “What’s important in our title is Mosaic, because this campus is a mosaic of people and voices coming together as a whole, and that’s what this is about.”

OU Daily reported in April on the objections to the Sooner nickname raised by Native American OU graduate Rance Weryackwe, who argues that the name is “a celebration of a loss of culture and loss of land” by Native Americans.

The term “sooners” refers to white settlers who illegally claimed land in Oklahoma before the territory was opened to settlement, while “boomers” was a 19th century appellation given to those who supported the seizure of Native American lands by the federal government.

“I know it’s a sensitive term for me,” Weryackwe said, “and I think if we talked about it and made it sensitive in other people’s eyes, that would help.”

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