‘Siouxper Drunk’ Shirts Worn at the University of North Dakota’s Springfest, By Ruth Hopkins
On Saturday, May 10, 2014, a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota man posted this picture to my Facebook wall:
The photo was taken at the University of North Dakota’s Springfest earlier that same day. In it, non-Native UND students are wearing shirts that say ‘Siouxper Drunk.’ Beneath it, a stereotypical ‘Indian head’ reminiscent of the retired Fighting Sioux logo is pictured drinking from a beer bong. What followed the post were a string of comments from understandably infuriated Natives, many of whom were from the Spirit Lake Nation, the Dakota Tribe located closest to the UND campus.
Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people comprise the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires), also known as The Great Sioux Nation. Oceti Sakowin were called ‘Sioux’ by their enemies.
The UND Fighting Sioux logo was retired after the NCAA concluded that the race-based mascot was hostile and abusive toward Native Americans. This decision was based on numerous complaints, affidavits, and an abundance of evidence collected over the years that proved the mascot was not only offensive, but detrimental and contrary to NCAA policy.
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.
The ‘drunken Indian’ caricature is one of the worst stereotypes about Native people that there is. Historically, imbibing is not part of Native culture. There are many Native people, Oceti Sakowin included, who do not abuse alcohol.
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.
Alcoholism is a serious issue in Indian country and its nothing to laugh about. According to the CDC, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis is the #5 cause of death among Native Americans. In 2010, 15,990 Natives died from alcoholic liver disease alone. Another 25,692 died from alcohol-induced deaths, not counting accidents and homicides. In fact, 1 in 10 Native American deaths are alcohol-related.
The tiny town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, located just over the border from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, rakes in millions of dollars for beer companies every year by profiting off the misery of Lakota addicted to alcohol. These people who are sick live short lives full of pain and suffering. Families are destroyed. Now tell me again, how is ‘Siouxper Drunk’ funny?
The fact that a whole group of students were able to walk around UND’s Springfest in ‘Siouxper Drunk’ t-shirts without being stopped speaks volumes. Why would faculty, staff, students, and community members choose to ignore such blatant racism? Didn’t anyone have the good sense to feel embarrassed or ashamed of such a discriminatory display? By allowing such open, aggressive hostility against Natives, you are complicit. If you disapprove of such behavior, stand up and be counted.
Native students attend UND now, and dozens of Natives have graduated from there. Dakota, Lakota and Nakota Tribal members have degrees from the University of North Dakota. It’s appalling that UND would allow their own students and distinguished alumni to be openly harassed and humiliated on the basis of race by others who attend their institution and are subject to the University disciplinary system.
No one can tell me this act was not purposeful. Social media posts reveal that students wearing ‘Siouxper Drunk’ shirts knew exactly what they were doing. One individual, who’s Twitter handle is @Sioux_Sam, not only posted a picture of himself wearing the offending garment, he previously tweeted about having the shirts made and putting “the beer bong right into the mascot head.”
Another UND student apparently had the nerve to hope she would gain notoriety from the act of prejudice against Natives her and her friends perpetrated when they wore ‘Siouxper Drunk’ shirts. Parents, please let your children know that this is not the kind of behavior one should want to be known for. Being labeled a racist for the rest of your life is nothing to be proud of.
University of North Dakota administrators: you cannot afford to remain silent in the face of such arrogant bigotry. This mockery against Native people, this repugnant spectacle of racial intolerance, took place at your Springfest. An apology for allowing ‘Siouxper Drunk’ tees to be worn at your Springfest isn’t good enough. Sensitivity training will not suffice. Racially motivated incidents keep happening on the University of North Dakota campus. Implement a zero tolerance policy for any and all words, actions, and depictions that discriminate against Native Americans. Only by imposing automatic, pre-determined penalties for clearly defined, racially motivated infractions will you finally purge such shameful conduct from your institution. The onus is on you, not the Native Americans who are being subjected to this harassment and abuse. Students who wore ‘Siouxper Drunk’ shirts at Springfest should be expelled.
Native people deserve to be treated like human beings, worthy of respect. We pay taxes. We vote. We are part of this economy and society. We make contributions to our communities, UND, North Dakota, and this country. We will no longer accept being treated as second class citizens. If you aren’t outraged by ‘Siouxper Drunk’ shirts featuring a Native mascot in a headdress drinking from a beer bong, you need to check your moral compass.
Pictures provided via Frank de la Paz, Danielle Miller and https://storify.com/xodanix3/sioux-sam