In a controversial move, Land O’Lakes, a member-owned agricultural cooperative, removes artwork depicting a Native American from its packaging.
Created by a Native American
The artwork that was removed was created by Native American artist Patrick DesJarlait, whose Red Lake Ojikwe name is Nagabo, which means Boy of the Woods. He was born in 1921 in Red Lake, Minnesota, served in the navy, and later in life fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming a full-time professional painter.
According to Patrick’s website, “the majority of his paintings are now in the collections of Museums, Private collections, and Major Business Entities such as U.S. Department of Interior, Minnesota Historical Society and General Mills (The fame cereal maker, which purchased the “Wild Rice Harvest” and is in its permanent collection at its headquarters in Golden Valley, MN.)”
After dying of cancer in 1961, the American Indian Center in Minneapolis was dedicated in his memory for “his commitment and dedication to the Native American people of Minnesota.”
Mixed Reception about Removing the Illustration
Some are applauding the change, claiming that using images of Native Americans is racist, while others are concerned that this is part of an effort to erase all positive references of Native Americans from mainstream society, basically relegating any reference to Native Americans to reservations.
Others are more concerned about a non-Native American company is using an image of a Native American to make money.
Some are more offended by the fact that it has become a stereotypical image and express that they do not wish to be portrayed as a stereotype. Others feel that the artist made the illustration according to criteria set by whites and that it is not an accurate depiction of Native Americans.
Since the removed image was created by a Native American, there are questions on what is acceptable or not when it comes to Native Americans portraying their tribe in art.
There is much debate on whether removing the artwork created by a Native American is racist or not. People seem to be in four camps about this:
- It is racist to use any image of a Native American or its culture if you are not Native American. That using the image is cultural appropriation.
- It’s racist because it has been repeatedly used so often that it has become a stereotype, and they feel that they are being portrayed as a stereotype as a result.
- It is racist to remove Native American references and artwork from the mainstream, especially in the light of the fact that white faces are never removed, only references to minorities are removed. That removing the image is a racist tactic known as whitewashing.
- That it is not racist either way, and people are overreacting.
While some seem happy with the change, others are claiming that they will stop buying Land O’Lakes in protest over the move.
The response among Native Americans is mixed. Many Native American groups applaud the change, while many Native Americans are posting on social media saying they are confused and sad to see the Native American artwork removed.
For many, the real objection appears to be that Native Americans do not feel they are heard or recognized as anything more than mascots and stereotypes. The stereotypical image is just a reminder of that. People disagree on whether or not removing images from the mainstream will actually solve this problem.
Some claim their feelings are hurt every time they see such images so removing the images increases their mental health, while others say that removing images of Native Americans will actually decrease awareness, not increase it, thereby increasing the feelings of isolation.
Most people do not even seem to be aware that the art was created by a Native American artist. Those that know either thing the artwork is acceptable, or think that the artist is a racist himself.
It’s a polarizing topic where people are either emotional about it, or don’t care.
The Bigger Picture
The concerns over the illustration are minor compared to serious issues Native Americans face, including isolation, discrimination and the taking of their rights and lands.
When people oppose minor things, like a logo or a symbol, that is just a symptom of a bigger problem. They are really upset about real racist acts. A well-intentioned tribute may be misguided but is not racist. Mistreatment, abuse, and discrimination is racism.
Many think that is what we should be focusing on because that is the underlying issue that is causing all of the pain.
To some, removing the artwork is a small win in what seems to be a losing battle. Others view the artwork as being something harmless and a distraction to the real work that needs to be done; wasted energy that could be used to fight more important battles.
Everyone agrees that there are problems that need to be addressed, but not everyone agrees that this is one of them.