On Saturday May 10, a group of University of North Dakota students wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Siouxper Drunk” accompanied by a chief in a headdress drinking from a beer bong as part of a Springfest celebration. The shirts were discovered by Native students who saw several images plastered all over social media the same day, which incited heated debates on Twitter and Facebook.
UND Student Frank Sage said many students were outraged by the shirts and called them degrading and demeaning. “They call it Springfest, but it really is just drinkfest for those students,” Sage said.
Senior Danielle Miller, (xodanix3 on twitter) treasurer of the University of North Dakota’s Indian Association (UNDIA) watched the activities unfold over the weekend and grew so frustrated by the actions of culturally insensitive UND students she documented a series of social media postings on storify.
In Miller’s posts, photographs of a UND student with the Twitter name @Sioux_Sam wearing the T-shirt and screen captures and tweets by UND students demonstrate the support of the prior Sioux nickname and disregard for UND’s Native students.
One student @SaraSweeney4’s tweet reads: “our springfest shirts will make the news I just know it lol”—several students favorited the tweet. Since Miller posted the storify, and the shirt’s got some media attention, all of the students have deleted their tweets or twitter accounts altogether.
On the LastRealIndians site, contributor Ruth Hopkins wrote that a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota man posted a picture to her Facebook wall and described her stance on UND, which has yet to choose a new logo since transitioning from the prior Fighting Sioux.
“Native mascots personify the widespread systemic racism against Native people that still prevails in the subconscious of western society. 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,” wrote Hopkins.
After inquires by ICTMN to the shirt manufacturer CustomInk, the company apologized publicly.
CustomInk representative Andrew Weinstein responded with the following statement issued by the company, which was also posted on their website.
“We are very sorry about this offensive design. CustomInk’s business is focused on bringing people together in positive ways. 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.”
Though CustomInk has apologized, several questionable logos and Native themed characters appear on the company’s design lab listed under religion and tribal.
After attempts to reach administrators at UND, President Robert Kelley released a statement later in the day on Monday.
“I was appalled to learn this weekend that a group of individuals had the poor judgment and lack of awareness and understanding to create and then wear T-shirts that perpetuated a derogatory and harmful stereotype of American Indians. The message on the shirts demonstrated an unacceptable lack of sensitivity and a complete lack of respect for American Indians and all members of the community.
“These T-shirts were not worn at a UND function—in fact, the event they are associated with is NOT a university event. They don’t appear to have been worn on UND property, and we are not aware that the group represents any UND organization. UND has a responsibility to promote respect and civility within the campus community, and we have the responsibility and right to speak out against hateful behavior. As a University, we teach respect for others. It is imperative that, through our actions, we demonstrate respect for all.”
Several others issued a statement regarding the shirts as well, read that full statement on the LastRealIndians tumblr page.