Done tastefully, naming rights can honor tribes
I've always known I had Hunkpapa Lakota relatives at the Standing Rock reservation in Fort Yates, N.D. I am in constant communication with them and see them often. But it wasn't until some 15 years ago that my mother told me I had a grandfather w...
I've always known I had Hunkpapa Lakota relatives at the Standing Rock reservation in Fort Yates, N.D. I am in constant communication with them and see them often. But it wasn't until some 15 years ago that my mother told me I had a grandfather who was Dakota from the Mdewakanton (Shakopee) tribe in Minnesota. In fact, she was an enrolled Mdewakanton along with a brother and sister; the rest of the children were enrolled at Fort Berthold in western North Dakota.
My grandfather married my grandmother, Little Sioux, who was Sahnish (Arikara). They moved to White Shield (on the reservation) when the children were young.
It is this relationship that prompted me to write about the Shakopee tribe and its generosity. And, more importantly, to comment on the naming rights it earned as a result of its donations.
The tribe donated$12.5 million to the University of Minnesota -- $10 million toward the construction of the Gophers TCF Bank Stadium and $2.5 million for a scholarship endowment, which will be matched by the university.
For a state with so many tribes, including the Shakopee and Ojibwe tribes, American Indians have a small representation at the University of Minnesota, with only 274 American Indians among the 33,761 undergraduates on the Twin Cities campus.
The new scholarships will be for any and all students with financial need -- except for Shakopee students, who won't be eligible because they have their own education funding.
Shakopee Tribal Chairman Stanley Crooks indicated that he'll probably use naming rights for the stadium's main plaza and landscaping to "honor Minnesota's Indian tribes." I flinched when I read that paragraph, remembering the Seminole tribe's approval of the use of its name at Florida State University and the University of North Dakota's Engelstad Arena, which is covered with Fighting Sioux logos.
But my fear was unfounded. Crooks said the tribe was considering naming the plaza, "The Dakota Mall."
I can readily see that as a way to honor the Dakota people.
Still, I've heard some disparaging remarks about that name -- Dakota Mall -- because, some say, it carries with it the same problems as the "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo at the University of North Dakota.
I don't see it that way.
Actually, it is more like naming a hall or building on a university campus after some well-respected president of the college or alumnus who made an impact on the community or state. The Dakota Mall -- if that's the name that's picked --also will feature educational information that will provide an accurate history of Americans Indians, the tribe said.
Why is that different from a team name such as Fighting Sioux?
You will see no rallies over the name of the plaza during the Golden Gophers' football games.
With a nickname or logo of a sports team, people take their aggressions out using the symbol as a weapon against the other team. The name is an excuse to really "put down" the other side, to let out aggressions, take off the suit, bring out the beer and shake the clenched fist.
Team nicknames and logos set up a field of opportunities to degrade a group of people and to make them a "thing," not a people. Unfortunately, it also is hard to put aside those feelings after the game, because as you step off the field, there are reminders everywhere you look: on buildings, T-shirts, book bags, decals, socks and almost everything else.
That said, it's good that the Dakota Shakopee peopledidn't dive into that murky water, and I applaud them for their generosity and their wise decision to use the Dakota Indian name in a way to educate rather than risk degrading American Indians in a way that some names have done.
Dorreen Yellow Bird is a columnist for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota.