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In Letter to James Wright, UND President Kupchella Defends Sioux Name; Condemns ‘ignorance’ and ‘deflection’ at Dartmouth

undltrthumb1.gifIn a letter to Dartmouth President James Wright dated November 30, 2006, Charles Kupchella, the president of the University of North Dakota, defends his school’s team name, the Fighting Sioux, against attacks by Dartmouth Athletic Director Josie Harper and others, which many have seen as presumptuous and elitist.

In a rash of politically correct responses on the part of the Dartmouth administration to a list of grievances printed in The Dartmouth several weeks ago by a Dartmouth Native American group, Athletic Director Josie Harper apologized to Dartmouth’s American Indian students for inviting the University of North Dakota—whose Fighting Sioux hockey team is highly ranked—to the Ledyard Invitational tournament this year. The apology was widely covered in the media, seemingly vaulting Dartmouth to the top of the political correctness ranks for what appears to be a new policy of not playing any teams whose mascots might be deemed offensive by any segment of students.

The American Indian group’s list of “racist” incidents included, in full: 1) The crew team’s “Cowboys and Indians”-themed party, 2) Old-style t-shirts distributed by The Dartmouth Review, depicting Dartmouth’s former mascot, the Indian, 3) Similar t-shirts for sale outside a football game against College of the Holy Cross, which depicted that team’s mascot, the Crusader, fellating Dartmouth’s former mascot, the Indian, 4) A promotional mailing sent by Dartmouth’s Development Office which contained a photograph of an alumus holding an Indian-head cane, which were popular as commencement trophies when the Indian was Dartmouth’s mascot, and 5) an unconfirmed event in which inebriated fraternity initiates interrupted an Indian drum circle.

Finally, listed as an “ongoing” racist incident, the American Indian group complained about a piece of artwork depicting Indian students at Dartmouth’s founding in a state of perceived ignorance. The artwork, in response to earlier protests, has been boarded up and shielded from sight. The American Indian group would now like it destroyed.

Pursuant to a media strategy distributed to members of the American Indian group and leaked to campus journalists, the group was able to attract media coverage of the events it deemed racist, widely fomenting the impression that Dartmouth is a racist college. Few media reports actually listed the grievances. Nonetheless, in response to the pressure, Dartmouth President James Wright, Dean of the College Dan Nelson, and Josie Harper responded in letters-to-the-editor and e-mails to the Dartmouth community.

In his letter to Wright, Kupchella seized on the public, though manufactured, impression that Dartmouth is inhospitable to American Indian students. “I must,” he writes, “express my great displeasure and dismay at what has appeared to many here to have been an attempt by some at Dartmouth, especially your athletic director, to deflect your problems onto the University of North Dakota.” Referencing Harper, Kupchella writes, “To have placed herself above the majority of Indian people and above the Spirit Lake Nation is nothing short of patronizing.”

Kupchella goes on to explain the widespread and continuing support among North Dakota’s American Indian population for the Fighting Sioux name.

President Wright, to my knowledge, has not issued a response.

Read the entire letter in PDF format here.

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