Thursday, May 03, 2012

American Indian Religious Freedom Act Suit Against NCAA Dismissed

In Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe of Indians v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, (D ND, May 1, 2012), a North Dakota federal district court dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group Sioux Indians who are challenging an NCAA policy that led the University of North Dakota to end the use of  "Fighting Sioux" as its team nickname. The NCAA policy prohibits the display of Native American nicknames, mascots, and imagery at events conducted under NCAA auspices. The court described the lawsuit as part of a "never-ending saga" which has involved "a spectrum of protests for and against the name, tribal resolutions, state laws, and fierce public debate."  In this lawsuit, plaintiffs claim that in 1969 a delegation from the Standing Rock Tribe, and at least one representative from the Spirit Lake Tribe, traveled to the UND campus and conferred on the university, in a ceremony involvling the lighting of a sacred pipe, the right to use the nickname “Fighting Sioux” in perpetuity.

Among the numerous claims raised by plaintiff is the allegation that the NCAA violated the American Indian Religious Freedom Act by failing to acknowledge the significance of the 1969 pipe ceremony, a sacred ritual with a basis in traditional tribal religion. However the court held that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act does not create any judicially enforceable rights. The court also rejected the claim that the NCAA had violated the Indian Civil Rights Act, since that Act only protects against infringements of individual rights by tribal governments. AP reports on the decision.