Have you ever seen a real Indian?: AICF’s ad campaign

In advertising, American Indian College Fund, identity by Adrienne K.7 Comments

For some reason, this week has offered me a host of examples of insensitivity and ignorance surrounding Indian identity and identity politics. I’ve gotten in intense arguments and conversations in classes, I’ve confronted a colleague who told me, to my face, that the reason the US and Canada were different in terms of policies towards their Indigenous peoples was because “Well, I mean, in the US our policy was just to kill all the Indians. That’s why there aren’t any left, and we don’t have to deal with them.” I also overheard a student with whom I was discussing my research tell his friend: “I was like, Okaaay Native American, just talk about how we OPPRESSED you and your PEOPLE!”
So when I was deciding what to post today, I remembered these ads from the American Indian College Fund, an organization that provides scholarships and assistance to tribal college students. They’re a little old, and their new campaigns–entitled “If I stay on the rez” and “Think Indian” are equally awesome and can be found here, but I think that these offer a powerful perspective that is rarely seen in print media.
After the jump, more of the ads and more discussion.

Judge Bill Thorne, Pomo. Judge for the Utah court of appeals, President of the National Indian Justice Center, skier, soccer coach for 25 years.
Hattie Kaufmann, Nez Perce, National network news correspondent, emmy award-winning reporter, traditional beadwork artist, marathoner.
Jarrett Medicine Elk, Northern Cheyenne/Assiniboine, business major, student  counselor, peer tutor, illustrator, public and motivational speaker
Rick West, Cheyenne, Attorney, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, traditional powwow dancer (and I would add–Stanford Alum!)
There are also a few more on the AICF website. The whole campaign can be found here.
I love these. Every aspect, from the attention-grabbing headline that makes the viewer question their preconcieved notions about what a “Real Indian” looks like, to the captions that demonstrate the subjects academic and career success; but also highlight their community/cultural involvement, as well as hobbies and other identities. It directly confronts what most of mainstream America would expect of an “Indian”–these are strong Native men and women, and they don’t need tipis or feathers to show it. It’s amazing how something as simple as putting “soccer coach for 25 years” can completely turn a stereotype on its head.
In addition, if you look along the right edge of each photo, there is a fact about reservation life, tribal colleges, or Indian education, and a link for more information about the American Indian College Fund. 
The best part is, the ads aren’t confined to Native outlets. These ads were (and the new ads are) featured in Sports Illustrated, Time, InStyle, the Delta Airlines magazine, Oprah magazine, NY Times magazines, and more. All major mainstream media outlets. That’s awesome. 
So, in light of my identity challenges this week, I thought I would offer a counter-narrative (I love that term) to the stereotypes clearly held in the heads of many Americans. I only wish the images of Natives that most Americans see everyday were more like these, instead of the other images that dominate this blog.
Keep up the good work, American Indian College Fund! I am such a supporter.
American Indian College Fund website: http://www.collegefund.org/
  • I always loved this campaign as well…it attacks the stereotypes head on. Thanks for sharing them again.

    PS…I need your new email addy (personal or HGSE), I’m not sure if your former one at that Uni in Cali is still working. You can either email me or facebook message me.

  • Thank you for this post and posting these ads.

  • A Meadows

    I am loving this blog AK! And seriously, people just have no idea. It is just another sad example of what important knowledge we aren’t taught in the “average” American school.

  • Thanks Scott, Anishinaabekwe and Allison! I’m going to try and start balancing out all the negative on the blog with a few more positive images every once and a while. :)

  • These remind me of an exhibit I saw at NMAI-DC a few years ago. It was basically a wall of faces- faces of Indians. It was intended to demonstrate the diversity of appearance among Indians. It actually made me cry. I can’t count the number of times my identity has been questioned or scoffed at because of some aspect of my appearance that doesn’t fit stereotypes. That exhibit was very affirming for me, and so are these ads. I want more people to see them.

  • Thanks for sharing, that’s a great read. Cheers, SEO Pricing

  • The University of North Dakota also did something similar: