"Siouxper" drunk? Or super offensive.
University of North Dakota students found themselves in the middle of a raging controversy recently after photos surfaced of them wearing shirts offensive to Native Americans.
North Dakota had voted to drop the Fighting Sioux mascot in 2012, after the NCAA declared University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname abusive and hostile. But some UND students apparently don't care, as evidenced by the shirts they wore to the school's Springfest celebrations last weekend.
The shirts were emblazoned with the the old Sioux mascot — a Native American "chief" figure — drinking from a beer bong along with the heading, "Siouxper Drunk."
Last Real Indians, a website dedicated to promote respect for indigenous communities, noted that some students even appeared to be hoping to gain a little notoriety with the shirts. In this case, however, not all publicity is good publicity.
The above tweet was later deleted. Image Cedit: Last Real Indians
By combining imagery of alcohol abuse and Native Americans, the students were perpetuating age-old stereotypes of the "drunken Indian" that are both offensive and make light of a debilitating problem in the Native American community today.
"Native mascots personify the widespread systemic racism against Native people that still prevails in the subconscious of western society," Ruth Hopkins wrote on the Last Real Indians blog. "The 'drunken Indian' caricature is one of the worst stereotypes about Native people."
In fact, alcoholism has been a longstanding challenge for the Native American community ever since it was introduced by Europeans. The rate of alcoholism among Native Americans is consistently higher than the that of other ethnic groups in the U.S. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report also noted that one in ten deaths in the Native American community are alcohol related, a rate that's three times the national average.
Image Credit: NBC News/AP
The manufacturer of the T-shirts, Customink, apologized for their part in the controversy on Monday, according to Salon. "We are very sorry about this offensive design," they said in a statement. "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."
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.
But the damage was done and a lot of people from Spirit Lake Nation, the Dakota Tribe nearest to the UND campus, took to social media to express their frustration.
UND is proof that there is no honor in Native American mascots. My ancestors didn't survive genocide to be mocked by privileged, drunk kids— Frank Waln (@FrankWaln) May 13, 2014
I honestly would like to take everyone who wore a #siouxperdrunk t-shirt down in a room and have a long patient conversation about race.— Kevin Gonzaga (@speakfaithfully) May 14, 2014
The behavior exemplified by the UND students, coupled with the reappropriation of Native American cultural traditions common in entertainment and fashion, highlights a continued ignorance and insensitivity among Americans regarding Native Americans. Last year, for example, an Alabama high school put up a big banner saying, "Hey Indians, Get Ready to Leave in a Trail of Tears, Round 2."
These types of references aren't clever, they're not cute and they're certainly not funny.