Wright promises Dartmouth will welcome Fighting Sioux

by Elise Waxenberg and Hillary Wool | 12/9/06 6:00am

WEB UPDATE, December 9, 9:58 p.m.

College President James Wright, responding to criticisms from the president of the University of North Dakota and the state's governor, promised the two on Monday that Dartmouth would play a "good host" to UND's Fighting Sioux hockey team at an upcoming game that has helped fuel recent campus controversy.

Wright also told The Dartmouth that come January he plans to review the College's policy on competing with teams that use Native American mascots.

Wright's assurances in a private letter to UND President Charles Kupchella and a phone call to North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven came after the two publicly objected to Dartmouth Athletics Director Josie Harper's apology for inviting UND to a Dec. 29 hockey match-up. Harper criticized UND's use of the Fighting Sioux symbol as "offensive and wrong" in a Nov. 21 letter to The Dartmouth and said she was sorry that the event will "understandably offend and hurt people within our community."

While Wright said he did not apologize for Harper's remarks, he said in an interview that his letter assured Kupchella that "we would be a good host and we would welcome the hockey team."

"I wouldn't go so far as to cheer for them -- I'll cheer for our team," Wright said. "But at least we wanted to welcome them."

At the same time, Wright said his letter "confirmed that Josie Harper is an exceptional athletic director that runs a very good program ... neither she nor I were looking for this to become the sort of issue that it did become."

The controversy escalated when Kupchella fired back at Harper's apology with a Nov. 30 letter to Wright calling for respect for his team and denouncing what he said was an attempt by Harper to "deflect [Dartmouth's] problems onto the University of North Dakota." Kupchella said that Harper had "placed our UND student athletes in the middle of a storm of events on [Dartmouth's] campus."

Wright also called Hoeven, a 1979 Dartmouth graduate, who had told the Associated Press that he too thought Harper's letter was wrong.

"I asked him to come to the hockey game," Wright said.

Harper's letter was published one day after Wright sent a campus-wide BlitzMail message on Nov.20 condemning recent race-related incidents that a Native American group protested as offensive, including a fraternity member's sale of obscene t-shirts using Dartmouth's discontinued Indian logo and the interruption by fraternity pledges of a Columbus Day drum circle.

Wright's Nov. 20 letter also made brief reference to the upcoming UND game, which he said was not among the issues raised by the Native American group he had met with.

Wright defended his administration's discussion and criticism of UND's nickname and logo.

"I think we have a right and even a responsibility to talk about things that affect our campus and our community," he said. "We have to make determinations as to when these situations relate to other institutions, if this is the time to say something."

Wright said he plans to review the College's policy on competing with teams that have Native American mascots. He said Harper, coaches, and an athletics committee of faculty members will likely be asked to make recommendations on the issue in January, although Wright noted that there may not be any policy shifts and formal plans for such a review have not yet been organized.

"I haven't quite got my own arms around it," he said of the recent development.

While Dartmouth discontinued its Indian mascot in the 1970s, UND, whose teams have been known as the Fighting Sioux since the 1930s, maintains that its nickname and logo are culturally respectful.

According to a UND University Relations publication, UND officially adopted the name "Fighting Sioux" in honor of the first inhabitants of the region and some of the American Indian tribes of the state.

"We have a beautiful logo designed by a respected American Indian artist and that we use the nickname with consummate respect -- expecting and getting respect for the Sioux culture from our fans," Kupchella said in a June 7 letter to the NCAA. "...We do not do tomahawk chops, we do not have white guys painted up like Indians, and our fans do not do Indian chants."