ND tribal leaders want sanctions over T-shirts

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Tribal leaders are pushing for sanctions against any student who wore a T-shirt bearing a caricature of the University of North Dakota’s former Indian head logo drinking out of a beer bong.

The North Dakota University System hosted a meeting Monday dubbed “Creating an Atmosphere of Respect” that was aimed at addressing the issue with tribal leaders and American Indian students.

The T-shirts, which were stamped with the words “Siouxper Drunk,” were worn for an annual spring party earlier this month that attracts students and others but is not associated with the university. Group photos of about 10 people wearing the shirts were circulated on social media.

David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck and a UND alumnus, said the incident “rekindles a negative fire of prejudice and racism” that he said was a problem when he attended the school in the 1960s.

UND President Robert Kelley told tribal leaders that federal privacy laws prohibit the school from identifying students who may have designed or wore the T-shirts or any action that may have been taken against them.

“I know it’s frustrating,” Kelley said. “But that does not mean nothing is being done.”

However, he would not provide specifics.

Kelley has said the incident perpetuated a derogatory and harmful stereotype of American Indians.

Recent UND graduate Robert Rainbow, who is Sioux, said he believed the issue largely centered on ignorance.

“We know not everybody hates Indians,” said Rainbow, a former Marine who this month earned a master’s degree from UND. “It’s just a lack of understanding.”

Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen called the T-shirts appalling and said they reflected poorly on the entire university system. Skogen said he was “livid” after seeing young people wearing the T-shirts but told the audience that the university system’s “legal resources are probably limited” due to Constitutional issues.

“We want consequences,” Skogen said. “But we have to be respectful of our own laws and our own rights.”

Sixty-eight percent of North Dakota voters in 2012 voted to drop UND’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo. UND was one of the last colleges standing in the nickname debate that started in 2005 when the NCAA listed 19 schools with American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots it deemed to be “hostile and abusive.”

The Legislature has imposed a moratorium on a new nickname until 2015.

Leigh Jeanotte, director of UND American Indian Student Services, said adopting a new nickname as soon as possible might help the school move forward. The old nickname, he said, was “harmful and created issues for Native American people.”

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