A group of students at the University of North Dakota are being criticized after they created and wore T-shirts that seemed to make light of alcoholism in the Native American community.
The website Last Real Indians pointed out the controversy after photos of students in the T-shirt began to spread on social media. The shirts depict a stereotypical “Indian chief head” drinking from a beer bong. Above the head are the words, “Siouxper Drunk.”
KVLY reported that students came into UND’s Indian Student Services on Monday to express outrage over the shirts. Students were also lashing out at CustomInk.com, which apparently printed the shirts.
In 2012, UND students had voted overwhelmingly to drop the “Fighting Sioux” mascot, leaving the university without a logo until 2015.
Last Real Indians’ Ruth Hopkins pointed out why both the mascot and the alcoholism stereo type were so damaging to the Native American community.
“Native mascots personify the widespread systemic racism against Native people that still prevails in the subconscious of western society,” Hopkins wrote. “The Fighting Sioux-esque ‘Siouxper Drunk’ tees worn at UND’s Springfest by UND students are proof positive that Native mascots are harmful and degrading to Native people, and that retiring all race-based mascots is not only appropriate, but necessary.”
“The ‘drunken Indian’ caricature is one of the worst stereotypes about Native people that there is,” she continued. “Europeans introduced alcohol to the Indigenous population in America. Prior to their arrival, Native people did not drink alcohol at all. Since then, Europeans have been pretty successful at using alcohol to subdue & assimilate Natives.”
Hopkins noted that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists chronic liver disease and cirrhosis as the fifth cause of death among Native Americans.
While some of the students who wore the shirts reportedly apologized, others allegedly threatened Native Americans students who spoke out on social media. Student “Samuel Revering” continued to sport the T-shirt — and the bio tagline “Nailin Sarah Palin” — on his Twitter profile at the time of publication.
As of Monday afternoon, UND officials had not said if the students who wore the shirts would be punished, but American Indian Student Services Director Leigh Jeanotte told Grand Forks Herald that he didn’t expect justice from the university.
Update: In a statement provided to Raw Story, CustomInk confirmed that it had printed T-shirts for the students.
“We are very sorry about this offensive design. CustomInk’s business is focused on bringing people together in positive ways,” the statement said. “We handle hundreds of thousands of custom t-shirt designs each year and have people review them to catch problematic content, including anything that’s racially or ethnically objectionable, but we missed this one. We apologize for any pain or offense caused by this shirt, and we will continue to improve our review processes to make them better.”
[Photo: Screen capture via Twitter user @xodanix3]