“TO BETTER tell its farmer-owned story.” That was the non-explanation offered by Land O’Lakes dairy company for the redesign of its packaging. No elaboration was offered for why the illustration of a Native American woman that has defined the company’s products for nearly 100 years is being dropped. So we have to assume that the company realized times have changed and so (thankfully) have sensibilities about the use of Native people as mascots, logos and other adornments. We wish the company had been more candid, but what is important is that it recognized the harm caused by its Indian stereotype. Others should follow suit.
The Minnesota-based farm cooperative launched a phase-in of the redesign in February to little notice. Instead of the long-familiar maiden kneeling by the side of a blue lake holding an offering of a stick of butter, the new designs include illustrations of a field and a lake and are labeled “Farmer-Owned.” An article this month about the rebrand in the Minnesota Reformer sparked reactions and a surge of attention on social media.
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (D), who is a citizen of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, thanked the company for the “important and needed change. Native people are not mascots or logos.” Kevin Allis, chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians, said Americans need to learn about the “beauty and diversity of tribal nations, peoples and cultures today and discarding antiquated symbols like this are a step in the right direction.” There was, of course, predictable blowback from critics who saw the company as caving in to political correctness and from some consumers who fondly recalled the iconic logo as part of growing up.
Land O’Lakes was hardly unusual in its use of Native American imagery. An exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian — and accessible online — catalogues the ubiquity of these images in modern American life, from baking powder boxes to classy motorcycles to Kanye West T-shirts to sports teams. These decontextualized stereotypes have no relation to the reality of Indian Country but are branding tools that minimize the needs and worth of a diverse population. The American Psychological Association has recommended the immediate retirement of Native American mascots and symbols because they have a negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children. A growing number of companies, universities, high schools and sports teams have moved to eliminate or minimize use of Native American imagery.
A notable exception is Washington’s football team, with its particularly offensive name. Daniel Snyder has vowed never to renounce the slur. Decisions like that of Land O’Lakes hopefully will make it harder for him to stick to that wrong-headed position.