Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

December 2, 2000 - Issue 24


Mixed Emotions at a Sioux Hockey Game

by Dorreen Yellowbird at Grand Forks Herald

Someone told me I shouldn't make comments about the "Fighting Sioux" name issue until I have glided in their skates, so to speak. You can't really understand the respect and honor bestowed on Native Americans when the "Fighting Sioux" are in the arena until you have been there, an e-mailer told me.

So I went to a hockey game Friday. It was the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs against UND. Good game.

And the e-mailer was right. Being at the game -- in the thick of it -- helped me understand. The sight and sounds of the skaters on the ice and the whole atmosphere in the arena was exciting and competitive. But did I find a sense of respect and honor? No, probably more like disconnection.

I was born in North Dakota, but basketball was the sport of my youth, so I'd never seen a live hockey game. I see now that I'd missed a fast and exciting sport. During the first period, I never saw the puck slip past the goalie. It wasn't until the crowd stood up and cheered that I realized what had happened. I also thought that the seats behind the goal are the worst in the arena because the puck flew into the crowd several times. I found that -- like a baseball -- the puck is a prize. Fans scrambled for it.

The ice, skating and rough play reminded me of the old Minot Mallard parking lot ice rink, where we played some rough and tumble games on skates. Next to the Mouse River, it was a big draw for skaters when I was a child.

It was in one of those classes at Minot High School where I found similarities to the game. At MHS we studied Indians of North Dakota for a few days. I was the only Native American in the class.

I dreaded the day when those thin, paper books were handed out, and we began to turn the pages. I knew it was coming because my older brothers and sisters had warned me. It was uncomfortable for me as the class talked about the First Nations -- my tribe. I said nothing, and I was asked no questions. On one page of the book there was a picture of my mother and her sister -- my aunt -- as young girls. They stood in front of a log cabin in old Elbowoods, I think. I have to smile when I remember how excited my mother and aunt were to see their picture in the book. They weren't identified -- just categorized as "Indians" of North Dakota.

When the bell rang, there would be that uncomfortableness between my classmates and me. I was separate and different -- real or perceived -- and it affected my interactions with my classmates. After a few days, things would return to normal. I was a student and motivated by peers, and the Indian studies classes set me apart when I was trying to fit in.

My grandmother's patience and teachings kept me moving in the right direction. It wasn't until I transferred to an Indian Boarding School in South Dakota that I knew I was part of the student body -- I belonged, and that expanded my horizons.

Friday night, the hockey game brought back that old feeling of uncomfortableness. When I went for popcorn that night, I nearly ran into a man with "Sioux" embroidered on his hat. For a second as my eyes dropped to the face under the hat, I looked for someone familiar -- a Sioux.

The logo and name were everywhere in the arena. The audience was a sea of Sioux. There on the back wall of the booth selling T-shirts, hats and the like was a framed jersey with the old "Black Hawk" logo. I wondered if it was waiting for a new life.

The people at the game were friendly and respectful. And some of the nicest people I know have told me they like the name, and they believe everything is done in a respectful manner, and I believe them. There are good people on the side of keeping the name.

Yet in this day and age, the historical misdeeds and atrocities committed against the First Nations are weighty. The idea that warring Sioux or savages make a ferocious front for a team to inspire winning, dredges up old hurts. It is putting the Sioux as a symbol of brutality. And in a way, it made me feel as uncomfortable as a Southerner might if he or she dropped in on a Northern rally celebrating victory in the Civil War. It was that notion that seemed to separate me from the crowd that night.

Yellow Bird's e-mail address is or she can be reached at (701) 780-1228.



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