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North Dakota lawmaker: Racist taunts in high school sports need to stop

Mike Moen

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(Prairie News Service) North Dakota high schools are in spring sports mode and there is lingering tension from winter sporting events, where Native American players endured racist taunts from non-Native fans, and one lawmaker wants more follow-through with the response.

Several incidents of players being subject to discriminatory behavior from the stands have prompted apologies from districts of opposing schools. The state High School Activities Association has responded, including by implementing a zero-tolerance policy.

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Representative Lisa Finley-DeVille, D-Mandaree, who represents the Fort Berthold Reservation, said the rules are not being widely enforced.

"The laws are there, they created them. It's about enforcing them," Finley-DeVille emphasized.

The Association also created a special committee to handle these matters, and Finley-DeVille noted she plans to engage with the panel over the summer. She hopes the input will lead to a better environment during games next year. The federal government already has its own civil rights investigation underway, stemming from an incident involving the Jamestown district last year.

Finley-DeVille appealed to the Department of Education Civil Rights Division last month with her own complaint. Meanwhile, she encouraged North Dakota to allow for Tribal Flag Songs to be performed before sporting events, just like the national anthem. She suggested it could help create more awareness among non-Native fans.

"The more education they (receive) about things, the better understanding they will have of Native Americans," Finley-DeVille pointed out.

DeVille acknowledged South Dakota already allows the practice. She added the department is evaluating whether her complaint against the Activities Association will lead to a separate probe. The Association did not respond to a request for comment.