GRAND FORKS - Bobby Bird Jr., doesn't have any direct connection to Grand Forks, but when he heard about the offensive "Siouxper drunk" T-shirts worn here, he said, he felt he had to respond.
Bird's record company out of Mount Pleasant, Mich., is selling T-shirts online with the words "Siouxper sober." Like the original shirts worn by some University of North Dakota students and others in Grand Forks, the similar design on the new shirt has the word "Siouxper" in green, UND's school color.
Although Bird, who is of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, and his colleagues aren't directly connected to UND or Grand Forks, they want to fight the stereotype of associating American Indians with alcoholism, he said.
"We've just seen this blatant racism," Bird said. "These stereotypes, it's kind of mind-blowing."
It doesn't matter that he isn't Sioux or from Grand Forks, he said.
"With natives, we're really close-knit as a people."
Bird doesn't drink alcohol or use drugs, his fiance, Amanda, has been sober for 12 years and his colleague who designed the "Siouxper sober" shirts, Cody Bigjohn, has been sober for more than 10 years, he said.
"That's something we're proud of," he said. He doesn't want his children to participate in drugs or alcohol either, he added.
The original T-shirts were worn by some UND students and other people attending Springfest, an annual event in a Grand Forks city park popular with UND students but not sponsored by the university.
Since then, UND officials and Grand Forks city officials have condemned the shirts' design as racist and offensive.
News of the offensive shirts, which depicted an American Indian drinking from a beer funnel, spread through media across the U.S., especially with American Indians on social media, Bird said.
The "Siouxper sober" shirts have been on sale online since Saturday, and there have been about three dozen orders from several different states, Bird said. He hasn't gotten any response from anyone at UND or from Grand Forks, he said, and he guessed only about five of his T-shirt orders were going to North Dakota.
Emmy Scott, former president of the American Indian Studies Association at UND, declined to comment for this story, and other representatives of the association could not be reached Monday.
Bird said he has received some negative feedback about his company's T-shirts, which also have an American Indian head, but without a beer funnel. The criticism doesn't bother Bird, he said, because he feels the shirts are a way to refute the negative stereotype.
"We're trying to make a statement," he said. "We want a different life for our children."
The T-shirts are being sold by Bird's record company for American Indian artists, PowWow Jamz, at bitly.com/1kjwrEv.