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UND's "Tribe of the Sioux"

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Too often, episodes in the past can be recalled with embarrassment, or with the pain of insult.

In October of 1928, a new student organization emerged at the University of North Dakota. It was announced in UND's student newspaper, the Dakota Student, which reported: “'Tribe of the Sioux' is to be a new rooting organization, composed of 100 men students who will be placed in a reserved section in the first five rows of section E, Memorial Stadium... 'Tribe of the Sioux' will feature 'Odz-zo-zi' – famous North Dakota yell which was recently called the best college yell by the New York World. The 100 members of the 'Tribe of the Sioux' will form a nucleus for North Dakota cheering... The first appearance of the 'Tribe' will be Saturday at the game with Carleton. No special costume will be worn for that appearance, Mr. Watkins stated, but by Homecoming on October 20, some unique dress may be on hand.”

On October 13, the Dakota Student announced, “Adorned with vari-colored blankets, 100 members of the 'Tribe of the Sioux' will appear for the second time in Section E, Memorial Stadium, at Saturday's football game with Morningside … The blankets will be worn this [Saturday] and for Homecoming on October 20; all Nodak Indians will wear Indian feather headpieces which were ordered from Denver … Indian headpieces are to be issued to the members next Friday, so that all members of the Tribe can march in the Homecoming parade on Oct. 20. An Indian war dance may be given by the Sioux between halves...”

Although this organization, with its “full Indian regalia of blankets, headdresses, and war paint” apparently fizzled out, this was a cultural precursor to UND's eventual adoption of the “Sioux” nickname two years later in 1930. This custom of “playing Indian” was in keeping with the foreword of the University of North Dakota's 1926 Dacotah yearbook, which stated, “We have gone for tradition and counsel to the Dacotah Indians whose trail, marked by the embers of [smoldering] campfires, is blazed across the pages of our history... this was his life and is ours.”

The Smothers Brothers once sang, “We can see by our outfits that we are both cowboys. If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy too.” In October of 1928, students at UND apparently had a similar attitude about Indians. And 83 years later, sensitivities matured to the point that the Sioux nickname itself was retired.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel


  • “'Tribe of the Sioux' New Pep Group, Organized On Campus”, Dakota Student, 6 October 1928, page 1, columns 3-4.
  • “'TRIBE OF SIOUX' IS SCHEDULED TO MEET WEDNESDAY NOON”, Dakota Student, 9 October 1928, page 3, column 3.
  • “'Tribe of Sioux To be Dressed In Indian Togs: Feathered Headpieces Ordered for Homecoming Day Use, States Kellogg”, Dakota Student, 13 October 1928, page 1, column 4.
  • “Broadcast To Feature News Of Homecoming: Many Alumni Expected To Hear State-Wide Program Thursday: COACHES WILL SPEAK: Shepard, Wilkerson, Webb, Stewart To Talk Over KFJM”, Dakota Student, 16 October 1928, page 1, column 4.
  • “Innovations Will Feature Nodak Cheering Today”, Dakota Student, 20 October 1928, page 2, column 2.
  • “N.D. Yell Most Virile Of All, Says Magazine”, Dakota Student, 2 October 1928, page 1, column 3.
  • “'Sioux' Replaces 'Flickertail' as Caption of University Sport Teams” (headline), Dakota Student, 3 October 1930, page 1.
  • “SIOUX BATTLE SENATORS TONIGHT” (headline), Dakota Student, 3 October 1930, page 1.
  • “NODAKS PLAY NEW ROLE AS WARRIORS OF THE PRAIRIE: Athletic Board Of Control Approves Movement Begun Two Weeks Ago: NAME HAS GREAT HISTORIC VALUE”, Dakota Student, 3 October 1930, page 1, column 1.
  • “Fighting Nodaks; lofty hours spent in halls of learning; evenings on the coulee; gayeties and perplexities of campus life; men who have come, gone, and made good, make up the pages of this book.
  • We have gone for tradition and counsel to the Dacotah Indians whose trail, marked by the embers of smouldering campfires, is blazed across the pages of our history. We have attempted to depict, as applicable to college life, the many-sided, colorful existence of an Indian. The calm of meditation, exhilaration of play, work, love, and laughter – this was his life and is ours.
  • In honoring the Indian, we have tried to give you a Dacotah full of things remembrances are made of; a book that will live with you, and hold you fast to your Alma Mater – to the school 'in the land of the Dacotahs.'”
  • “Foreword”, The 1926 Dacotah (Grand Forks: The University of North Dakota, 1926), page 5.
  • A gratuitously nasty motivation behind Indian impersonation got expressed by a cartoon printed six years later in an issue of the Dakota Student from 1934, which mockingly depicts an Indian stripped naked in a barrel by a Nodak who carries the Indian's feathers in his hand. The Indian labeled “THE ABORIGINALS” complains, “WHITE MAN TAKE MY LAND MY WILD GAME, THEN MY NAME.”
  • “Sioux What?” (cartoon), Dakota Student, 16 October 1934, page 2.
  • Smothers Brothers Parody of “Streets of Laredo

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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