You may have noticed while perusing the near-empty shelves of your local grocery store that Land O’Lakes, a brand that produces a wide variety of dairy and other products, has recently changed its logo.
For nearly one hundred years, the popular brand has sported an iconic image of a Native American woman as their logo. The woman, known as Mia, wears a traditional buckskin dress, as well as a headband with protruding feathers.
But in February, the company announced that it would soon be changing its packaging. According to Beth Ford, president, and CEO of the company, “As a farmer-owned co-op, we strongly feel the need to better connect the men and women who grow our food with those who consume it.”
And so the O in the products’ image, once filled with the face of Mia, now sits empty, giving consumers a view of traditional Minnesota landscapes. The back of the packaging now displays photos of some of the company’s many farmers.
But while the company claims it is merely trying to honor its heritage and workers, it is well known that the brand has been under fire for some time by activists who see the Native American woman as a derogatory and stereotypical image.
Take the words of North Dakota’s Democratic Representative Ruth Buffalo, for example. She says that the Native American imagery goes “hand-in-hand with human and sex trafficking of our women and girls… by depicting Native women as sex objects.” And Buffalo, who is a registered member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes, isn’t alone in these thoughts.
One social media user commented, “Land O’Lakes did not “get rid of the Indian and keep the land.” They got rid of a racist, outdated, offensive, stereotyped image of an Indigenous Person and chose not to reappropriate Native bodies and images to promote their product again. More orgs & companies should do this.”
Now, I know there are quite a few sick and twisted minds out there. But to presume that a cartoon-like image is going to cause consumers everywhere to think of Native American women as sex objects definitely borders on the insane. Clearly, someone with way too much time on their hands and plenty of bad ideas has taken this a bit too far.
I imagine these people have thought the image came from some rich, fat, and old white guy sitting in an office somewhere daydreaming about his sexual fantasies. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, the artist of the image that is so well known was a Native American himself.
The original image was created in 1928 as a way to depict the traditions of the state of Minnesota, where the company was founded. In the 1950s, it was remade to look a bit more modern. And that artist was an Ojibwe tribe member named Patrick DesJarlait.
According to the late artist’s son, Patrick, it was far from offensive to his tribe. In fact, it was a great honor.
The younger DesJarlait says, “my dad’s work is a source of pride for us. He broke barriers as an Ojibwe artist from Red Lake. Back then, you didn’t find native people in those kinds of jobs, and this gave him the opportunity to put his spin on a well-known native image.”
DesJarlait says that the removal of the image comes with mixed feelings. He says, “We live in a politically correct time, so maybe it was time to get rid of it.” But at the same time, he is “sad to see it go.”
However, the removal of the art, due to “political correctness” is creating an even more dangerous problem. You see, the images that are apparently so offensive to some are not being removed to be replaced with more realistic or better representations. They are simply being removed.
And this means the already diminishing numbers of Native Americans in our nation are getting even less representation and visibility. Ever heard the phrase, ‘out of sight, out of mind?’ Well, that is precisely what is happening. As more and more Native American art or imagery is being taken down, less and less of their culture, of their history, and of the issues that matter to them become seen by the public.
Sure, the lack of images means that the Natives won’t be misrepresented. But now they won’t be represented at all.
No wonder the tribes feel like they don’t exist and don’t matter to America.