Logo story coming to film

The UND nickname saga has been a focal point of people’s attention in Grand Forks for the past several years, and a North Dakota filmmaker was been working to tell that story to a wider audience.

After nearly three years of work, Matt Fern is nearing the end of his documentary “Unauthorized: The Story of the Fighting Sioux.”

“I’ve been looking for a documentary subject to tackle that would warrant a feature film,” Fern said. “I always saw the Fighting Sioux name and logo in the news, and the more I looked into it, the more it just made sense that this would be the perfect documentary story I’ve been looking for.”

Although he is based out of Bismarck, Fern has traveled throughout the state to film the documentary, including the Indian Reservations in North Dakota.

“I’ve done a lot of filming on reservations across the state,” Fern said. “I felt like that was something I could bring to this story if I could go to Standing Rock and Spirit Lake and really gauge what happened and what the community feels towards the name and logo.”

Fern searched through a variety of past news coverage in order to find relevant people to interview. He has interviewed more than 50 people throughout the state, including fans, members of the media, public officials and Native Americans.

“We have just been very conscientious to include both sides and talk to everyone who’s reached out to us,” Fern said. “We have been very open with our intentions and the goal of the film.”

Not everyone Fern reached out to wanted to be interviewed for the film; he estimated about 25 percent of people they wanted to interview did not respond to their requests.

“That was the biggest obstacle, and the biggest one being the University of North Dakota,” he said. “They wouldn’t give us a statement, they wouldn’t meet with us. So it was a really big decision to keep going
because that could have very well been the end of it.”

Fern said he was surprised by how far back into history the story of the Fighting Sioux nickname goes. He began production of the film in the summer of 2013, but parts of it take a look further back into the story behind the nickname and logo.

“It’s not just since 2000 since the NCAA has been involved. It goes back to at least the 1960s if not further,” Fern said.

Throughout his interviews for the documentary, Fern described the amount of passion he encountered, both for and against the nickname.

“The big takeaway is how much the name and logo means to people, for and against it,” he said. “I feel like I really understand those who don’t want to lose the name and logo and it means so much to them, but I also understand those who oppose it and how it can be offensive and how it can be frustrating.”

Most of the interviews for the film took place two years ago, but Fern has been adding additional content to reflect the new nickname selection process and the hockey team’s recent national championship.

The Fighting Sioux nickname was officially retired in June of 2012, and the nickname “Fighting Hawks” was chosen to replace it last fall. The logo to accompany the Fighting Hawks nickname is expected to be finished this summer.

“The amount of passion is pretty wild,” Fern said “There is something about the image and the name Fighting Sioux that has brought out a lot emotion both for and against it.”

Last fall, Fern started a Kickstarter campaign to help pay for some of the costs of the movie. He raised $51,816, much of which will go toward music licensing, production costs and rewards for those who donated.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website, and people who donate get certain rewards based on the amount of their donation. The rewards include posters, hockey pucks, placement in the credits, and a hand drawn sketch from Ben Brien, the artist who designed the Fighting Sioux logo and is featured in the film.

Additionally, Fern donated five percent of the money raised through Kickstarter to the Lakota Language Nest, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Lakota language and traditions based out of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Fern, who has been producing short films for the past 10 years, owns his own video production company in Bismarck, Creative Treatment. He plans to release the film this summer. For more information, visit

Sean Cleary is the editor-in-chief for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]