Thunderbird Energetica: When good intentions go wrong

March 6, 2012 — 38 Comments

I almost feel a little bad writing this post. Because in doing so, I know everything I’m saying is going to come as a big shock to the owners of this company. I know that they think their intentions are pure and their heart is in the right place, and that they think through their own brand of hipster hippy humor they’re immune to criticism. I’m pretty sure we’ve got another Yay Life Tribe or Spirit Hoods on our hands–This is a company that is clearly the heart and soul of the founders, that strives to do good in the world, and is just so earnest in doing so–that they’ve been blinded to how hurtful their imagery and representations of Native culture are. So Thunderbird Energetica, I’m sorry, but I’m about to tear apart everything you hold dear. And I do feel bad about it. I do.

So what is Thunderbird Energetica? It’s a small “artisan energy bar company committed to producing powerful sources of human fuel.” Every bar is handmade, they use “real” ingredients, and even the wrappers are biodegradable. Cool. I’m on board with that. They also are super into supporting athletes–runners, bikers, triathalon-ers, etc. Also fine. So, if that’s where the story stopped, I’d be happy to hop on by my local natural foods store and buy a few bars.

But as you can tell from the image at the top of this post, the entire company is imbued with Native cultural appropriation–running so deep that several Native Approps FB readers thought the entire site was a work of satire. Ready? Here’s the “origin” of the company:

As night fell, a lightning storm looming on the horizon provided the fireworks that further sparked our imaginations. We interpreted this moment as a sign, a metaphor, for what we captured in our energy bar. Raw, organic power and a simple, yet finely balanced force; an entire energy system designed to bring life and romance to an otherwise harsh and punishing environment. We had been touched by the Thunderbird and everything that it represents.

Um, right. 

There’s truly too much for me to unpack every layer in one post, so I’m going to send you off to various parts of their website.

The profiles of the founders each include a section on their “Spirit Animal”–Catamount, Jaguar, and White-Tail, respectively. You can find these profiles by clicking on “Tribe” at the top of the page, and then “Creators” (not kidding). “Jaguar”, also known as Taylor Thunder, the founder listed (until tonight–more on that later) “Native Americans” among his “Inspirations.” It now reads something about his dog. Who is named “Lakota,” btw.

Then I took a little time to explore their blog. A few things. They love their Moms and Dads. Cute. They support a lot of races. cool. They hired a designer named “Sprinting White Horse”. Wait, what?

Yeah. “Sprinting White Horse”–”Jed Rogers (christian name)” found his spirit animal through an “intense sweat lodge experience”. Read the whole thing here, it gets even more ridiculous. I get it. It’s a joke (oh please jeebus let it be a joke), but the trivializing of Native spiritual practices and sacred naming ceremonies does not strike me as funny. Here you go:

In order to design the perfect Thunderbird logo, Jed Rogers (christian name) left his native land of Austin, TX  to partake in a month long sweat lodge experience in the remote desert plains of New Mexico. While exposing his sculpted body to temperatures above 140 degrees, Jed partook in intense week long meditation sessions while fasting. After 2 weeks of deprivation and searching deep into his soul, Jed experienced his first hallucination.  He saw himself as a hawk soaring high into the stratosphere looking down at the meek earth. Miles beneath his feathered quads, Jed saw a wild stallion. Of course this stallion was sprinting and Jed was intrigued. He flew down to take a closer look at the magnificent beast and he quickly realized that he shared many of the same stunning physical characteristics. Huge vein filled legs, beautiful white teeth, and an affinity for traveling faster than most terrestrial animals. Jed had discovered his spirit animal!

Next, their racing kits. They sell a package where you can “join the tribe” and wear their company branded outfits. It comes with a contract, seen below (click to make it bigger):

Some choice phrases: “Congratulations on your admittance into the Thunderbird Tribe. Your life is going to improve exponentially after donning the sacred colors of the Thunderbird Nation. Be prepared to transcend time and space as you begin a magical journey into manhood/womanhood/tribeshood.” They call it a “sacred treaty”, but it’s supposed to be “funny”. Rules include saluting to buffalo and looking for your spirit animal.

There’s plenty more. They have a whole post about “spirit animals”:

Thunderbird Energetica is the only energy bar company to harvest the mystical powers of spirit animals during the fabrication and design of our product. Not only do the owners of our company have intimate relationships with their respective spirit animals, but each one of our bars has its own power animal.

They recommend this book on “spirit animals”:

 Looks totes legit! Real Native, right there.

They also had (again, until tonight) a blog post about how all their bars were “shaman blessed,” but the url (http://thunderbirdenergetica.com/thunderbird-is-shaman-blessed) now leads to an error page. I can only vaguely remember what it said–but they had some dude who came to the offices to bless the packages before they went out.

So, as you can tell by the subtle changes currently going on on the website, I posted this on the Native Appropriations facebook page earlier today, and readers had some less-than-nice words for the company. I commend Thunderbird for taking action to try and make their stuff less offensive, and clearly by editing it shows they’ve been made aware. But not totally aware, because a few readers sent them emails, and got variations on this response:

Im sorry you interpreted what we are doing as offensive. That is unfortunate. We have nothing but respect and honor for all indigenous tribes and cultures globally. I myself have deep Lakota Sioux roots that I am very proud of! So proud that I chose to start an energy bar company that would reflect that. The way I select to express my freedom of expression and speech is my conscious choice and perhaps it is too light hearted for your taste. Once again, never meant to offend you. Obviously you don’t understand my positioning and that is ok… We are all different and due to that diversity we express ourselves differently. You still have to respect that idea and the freedom of creativity.

Taylor
Sent from double rainbow machine

Ok. So now that we’ve established just what is so offensive, and how the company is choosing to respond, I’m going to structure my critique in an open letter format, cause I like doing it that way, ok?

Dear Taylor and the staff of Thunderbird Energetica,

I think you may have gotten more than a few angry emails from readers of Native Appropriations today, so I wanted to take some time to tell you why exactly it is we’re so upset by the way that you’ve chosen to market your company. First of all, so you know about me, I write a blog where I examine representations of Native peoples. Day in and day out, readers and I look at egregious examples of cultural theft, misrepresentations, and stereotypes, and I break down how these images are hurtful and contribute to the continued oppression of contemporary Native peoples. Unfortunately, your company and your language falls right in line with these examples of cultural appropriation.

I get that most of your website is tongue-in-cheek, that it’s supposed to be funny, poking fun at a culture of hippy-dippy health food nuts. I understand what you’re attempting with your writing, because that hyperbole and exaggeration are rhetorical devices I employ all the time on the blog as well. But the examples I’ve pulled out above, like the “spirit animals,” the fake-Indian-naming, the use of the term “tribe,” and the overall co-opting of Native American spirituality are upsetting and hurtful to me and other Native people.

First of all, your images and language collapse hundreds and hundreds of distinct tribes and traditions into a generic new-age Native stereotype. We don’t all participate in sweat lodge ceremonies, we don’t have “spirit animals,” very few of us have names that follow the extremely stereotypical “adjective+animal” format. The website perpetuates stereotypes that you may see as “positive”–Native peoples as stewards of the land, connected to nature, mystical, magical, special–but even these stereotypes are harmful because they relegate us to a mystical, fictional creature that exists in the past, not allowing Native people to exist as a modern, heterogeneous population that lives in the same world you do.

Taylor, you say that you have “Lakota Sioux roots,” and that’s great. But if you explored those roots a little more, you would learn that until 1978, American Indians couldn’t even legally practice our spirituality that you so openly appropriate–sweat lodges, naming ceremonies, “vision quests”–all illegal. That is why it hurts many of us so deeply when we see these practices being appropriated or mocked. If you wanted to form a company that “reflects” your roots, I’m pretty sure your Lakota elders would not have told you to rely on stereotypes.

I also struggle with your use of the term “Thunderbird tribe” and “Thunderbird nation.” Our American Indian tribes are sovereign nations within the United States. We have tribal governments that deal with the US government on a Nation-to-Nation basis. Our nations are strong and proud, and have existed long before the United States. They are not something that can be created from wearing a spandex outfit and signing a joke contract (don’t even get me started on calling it a “sacred treaty”). To call yourself a “tribe” and a “nation” trivializes the 500+ years that we have been fighting against colonization and fighting to keep our tribal rights.  

Finally, Taylor, your apology, or lack thereof. I totally get that this was all a big shock, and you’ve put a lot into this company to have some angry-Native-people-who-can’t-take-a-joke try and take that away. But your apology is pretty much a text book response to this type of thing, so much so that I almost laughed. Read this, if you don’t believe me. We’re not interpreting this as offensive, it is offensive. It’s not honoring to have someone make a mockery of your culture, traditions, and spirituality. I don’t find it respectful when someone makes light of the insurmountable loss of land and life from broken treaties, or basically tells me that I can’t take a joke, when the joke is at the expense of my culture.

You have “freedom of speech and expression,” yes. But for those who identify with the majority culture, you have most of those freedoms because of a system of privileges afforded to you simply because of the color of your skin and your position in society. You can turn on a tv, open a magazine, walk down the street, and see millions of images that reflect and affirm your life, your culture, and others like you. Native people don’t have such a privilege. The only images and representations we see are those created by outside forces, most of which, like your company, are stereotypes that don’t reflect or affirm the true nature of our cultures at all.

So your company is not “too light hearted for [our] taste,” and we can take a joke. But I’m sorry, I don’t find this funny. While on the surface, you may feel that your company has been unfairly targeted, or there are worse things that I should be going after, or that I should get a life and go fix something important–can I ask you one question? Did you even ask one Native person if your approach was ok? You know, the people you’re trying to honor?

This is all actually a surprisingly easy fix. Your company could be awesome. You’re a small, family-run, sustainable, organic-gluten-wheat-free-biodegradable-all-that-fun-stuff energy bar company. I support that mission. Just remove the Native imagery, get rid of the cultural appropriation. Change your website, re-brand, and you’ll be way more successful without 2% of the US population mad at you. Really.

Overwhelmed? Upset? I know how you feel.

Thanks for listening,

Adrienne K. 

Thunderbird Energetica Homepage
Thunderbird Energetica Facebook
Thunderbirt Energetica Twitter

Earlier Posts (You may want to read these to see how others have dealt with this–though I wouldn’t say they’re shining examples):

The Privilege of the Yay Life Tribe
Oh Spirit Hoods

EDIT 3/6: I clarified the language in the “white privilege” paragraph and took down the owner’s picture. Definitely want to make clear this is not about identity politics–it’s about images and representation.

 (Thanks Anita!)

Adrienne K.

Posts

  • Tangua43

    GREAT LETTER!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1663693208 Amelia Mavis Christnot

    I have a serious issue with your response. You post “But you have most of it because of a system of privileges afforded to you simply because of the color of your skin and your position in society. You can turn on a tv, open a magazine, walk down the street, and see millions of images that reflect and affirm your life, your culture, and others like you. Native people don’t have such a privilege. The only images and representations we see are those created by outside forces, most of which, like your company, are stereotypes that don’t reflect or affirm the true nature of our cultures at all.”

    The founder claims to be Lakota Sioux. Did you do a blood quantum study on him or did you just figure he didn’t “look Native enough” for you so of course he’s white? You could have called out the idiocy of this product’s marketing plan & website without falling into the trap of deciding who is and who isn’t Native based on either how they look or whatever criteria you’ve chosen to determine who is or isn’t.

    I hate to shatter some delusions, but not every Native person looks exactly alike. And any claims by any of us that we’re 100% are dubious at best. Most of us have some level of mixed blood. So rail all you like about the product or how it was marketed, but shame on you for deciding a person isn’t Native because you saw his picture & decided he wasn’t Native enough for you.

    • Adrienne_K

      Amelia, thanks for your response, and believe me, that wasn’t my intention at all. I am a mixed-low-blood-quantum-white-looking-Indian (and make reference to it often), and I benefit from plenty of white privilege because of the way I look. I should have been more clear in my response. I was trying to make a larger point about privilege and the power of representations–the fact that those who identify with the majority culture are able to see themselves reflected in all areas of society, while Native people aren’t afforded that privilege, because all of our representations come from outside. I made an, possibly incorrect, assumption that the founder identifies primarily with the majority culture due to their being no reference to his Lakota roots anywhere on the website, it was only in the email.

      I am very careful on the blog to not engage in identity politics and point the wannabe finger, because I’ve so often had that finger pointed at me in my life and career, just because of my appearance.

      I’ll definitely try and do better and be more clear in my future posts.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1663693208 Amelia Mavis Christnot

        Adrienne, thank you for your swift and thoughtful reply. I would however like to point out that there is a difference between being mistaken for a member of the majority culture & identifying with it. I caution you against thinking that being part of the majority or even being mistaken for being part of the majority is always preferable to being who you are. Loneliness or heartache because you don’t fit into your own culture of birth nor the one that people want to put you in is not always a privilege.

        In my father’s family, which is ironically Lakota, my siblings and our cousins run a wide range of shades, hair & eye colors, and features based on the genetics of my father’s own family and who he and his siblings married. Two siblings married Caucasians, my father married a Mohawk Iroquois woman, and one sister married a Native Hawaiian. Most of us were raised Native, immersed in our culture & never identifying as being anything but Native, with a little of this or that thrown in, but not as the center of our home lives. Most of us can’t identify in our minds with the majority culture because of the way we were raised.

        Some of us can be mistaken for Caucasians while some of us are either identified as Native by outsiders or in the case of myself and my siblings we’re often asked questions like “Where are you from?” when they really mean “I know you aren’t white, but I can’t tell what you are” or my personal favorite question that I’ve actually been asked more than once “I know you’re something. What are you?” Oglala Lakota + Mohawk Iroquois = confusion for people trying to determine your race. Most of the time they guess we’re from some Asian country.

        While low blood quantum Natives or those whom genetics decided to emphasize their less Native appearing features may be mistaken for the majority, that doesn’t automatically translate to them enjoying privilege or opportunity. Whether they enjoy privilege or opportunity depends on what they are trying to achieve. What if what they want most is to be part of their own culture without being mocked?

        Nor does it mean they identify with what they see around them. I’ve found the opposite is most often true. They can’t identify with anything they see, neither those that are identified as Native because they don’t meet societies standard for what Natives look like, nor those that are Caucasian because that isn’t the culture they were raised in. I have a wonderful cousin who has studied our culture with our elders and is easily the most well versed in our roots. But he doesn’t look the part at all. He may be mistaken for Caucasian, by Natives and non-Natives, but that doesn’t mean he can identify with the label they’ve slapped on him. Nor does he gain peace of mind or satisfaction of spirit because people think he’s Caucasian and refuse to acknowledge that he is Native.

        • http://twitter.com/boywith_acoin the scream

          Amelia, you’ve made some really great points here and brought up some issues that I have struggled with personally, having a hard time identifying with the various cultures I come from.
          I wonder, though, without playing identity politics, isn’t there a way to acknowledge that the way others perceive us, regardless of how we identify, plays a large role in our privilege (or lack thereof)?
          It is certainly disheartening to be refused acknowledgement of our heritage. It is just another tool of colonization and forced assimilation to be lumped into the white category and denied our unique roots. However, there is something to be said about the way society treats us, on a systemic level, when we are lumped into the white category based on what we look like, versus how we are treated when we look “not white”. And it is the responsibility of anyone who wants to fight against the continued oppression against Native Americans and all other oppressed groups to look at how we fit into the system of oppression. Because we’re all in there somewhere, and most of us have intersections of privilege and oppression.
          When it comes to those of us who may sometimes (or all the time) be perceived as white, we have to learn to rectify the pain of that invisibility with the fact that, to a great many, we are representing a white person, and therefore, our actions and behaviors are happening with all the privilege and baggage of whiteness behind them.
          It sucks because it IS due to a system of white superiority and the “white-is-normal” that we are being stripped of our cultural ties, our ethnicities, and of course we should fight against that, and insist upon being recognized for who we are and how we came to be. At the same time, I think that part of fighting that system is acknowledging when we are part of that system, however forced into it we may be, and making sure that we are not contributing to furthering oppression against ourselves when we ARE forced into it.

          • Haidagurl

            God I wish I heard Native people having these conversations more often. I feel like this level of discussion concerning identity – not just in relation to racial perceptions but all indexes of identity – is so incredibly essential right now as we redefine our nations and communities. And this is done with both openness and respect here. Does my heart good to read what Adrienne, Amelia, and Wilhelm have to say. Thanks for making my day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000303221375 Lynda Ontiveros

    thank you again Ms Adrienne. for expressing with such eloquence and compassion the passion which gets stuck in my throat when i attempt to articulate why these things are so very dis-honoring.

  • http://twitter.com/boywith_acoin the scream

    Amelia, I get where you are coming from, and I do think that perhaps Adrienne could have formulated the open letter differently, but it seems a little more complex than that.

    The thing about passing privilege, which many of us with mixed blood have to contend with, is that affords some of us the privileges of being [perceived as completely] white, and all that goes along with being white. And those privileges are not something that can just be turned off by acknowledging our non-white roots.
    It is hurtful and devastatingly invisibilizing to be questioned on my indigenous heritage based on what I look like. For me, it’s usually because I look “vaguely Asian” (I’m also 1/4 Japanese) than Native, but depending on the people I’m amongst, sometimes I’m perceived solely as white. During those times that I am perceived as white, I have to accept that my actions and behaviors are being cast through a different lens than when I am perceived as mixed race or something-other-than-white. Usually it means that I could probably act however I want without question, being a man-perceived-as-white.
    But there are certain responsibilities that come with passing privilege (any privilege, really), and one of those responsibilities is realizing that, as someone who is often perceived as white, the tongue-in-cheek ways that you “honor” your culture or make fun of mainstream culture’s romanticizing of various indigenous peoples’ traditions may not translate well to a broader audience, and likely will be perceived as racist and appropriative.

    It’s hard when it feels like things get into “not-Native-enough” territory, but I think it can be agreed that regardless of heritage, blood quantum, or skin tone, this company’s marketing is in poor taste.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1663693208 Amelia Mavis Christnot

      I don’t know if you’ve seen Adrienne’s response, but she addresses some of the same things you do. And I can to some extent agree with both of your points. But my concern is this written response states that the founder IS white, even though he had been quoted above as stating he was Lakota Sioux. The way it was phrased was not ambiguous. It stated he had privileges because he was a member of the majority group, made reference to the color of his skin, then compared him to Native people like it was two different groups of people and we knew which group he belonged in and it sure as heck wasn’t the Native group.

      We’re all Native people if we’re Native. We’re not just Native if we match what Hollywood told us Natives are supposed to look like. I think we can all agree there was a better way to state the point without telling him he flat out isn’t Native. And if we couldn’t find a better way, it was best to just leave that comment out. Aside from that one area, I think this is a great response to the company’s marketing.

      I agree that the marketing is atrocious, but I think it is because of the stereotypical pseudo-Native content. I think we should find the company’s marketing horrible even if it was a certified Native owned & operated company. Otherwise we’re being hypocritical. Using bad stereotypes to sell shouldn’t be OK if the person is determined to be “Native enough” and bad only if the person is determined to not be “Native enough”.

      • http://twitter.com/boywith_acoin the scream

        Amelia, I think we are in complete agreement here.

  • Detnesh

    Good stuff, keep up the awesome path of enlightenment for The Privileged Ones from the Clan of the Bloodied Hands!! Your words are shared as I carry on in this world.

  • http://twitter.com/Leo_Godin leogodin217

    I want to understand your angst. I really do. I try. However, I just don’t get it. Maybe that’s just me being white, male and middle-class, all at the same time, but I don’t understand why this company would cause you so much pain.

    Please understand, I’m not saying this to be crass or start an argument. Empathy is important to me. I’ve put in the time and effort to understand many of the issues of race that torment our land.. Your’s is just not one I can’t internalize, at least not in this case.

    The New Age movement is a mishmash of many cultures including East Asian and Native American among others. Are those cultures watered down in portrayed inaccurately? Of course they are. That’s what happens when we borrow traits from other cultures, but that’s what cultures have always done. Cultures adopt, cultures adapt and sometimes cultures die out.

    Please educate me on the specific damage caused by this companies existence. How do these stereotypes harm you as a person. For instance, do you feel people who meet you assume you are somehow primitive, mystical and in essence fictional? Is there psychological pressure associated with being Native American?

    I ask all this with complete sincerity, because I do want to know.

    • http://alagarconniere.wordpress.com/ julia

      you’re making yourself sound incredibly naive here. let me guess, you’re white, right? when you say “That’s what happens when we borrow traits from other cultures, but that’s what cultures have always done. Cultures adopt, cultures adapt and sometimes cultures die out. ” you’re forgetting the whole POWER dynamic at play here. some cultures have a policy of colonization, of cultural genocide, of imposing laws outlawing the use of traditional knowledge. some cultures cherry pick from others, and use them to their own benefit. some cultures “die out” because they are murdered, killed.

      no one is saying one company’s decision to market their energy bars as “uniting with your spirit animal” is going to destroy all native cultures. it’s just one drop in the bucket of watering down what it means to be native american. no, obviously it’s not as horrendous as policies of cultural genocide that have been and are in place in many countries around the world, but it is still a problem.

      ask any native person, or mixed-race native person, what the first questions are when a white person finds out they are native. the questions aren’t, “tell me more about your tribe/culture.” the questions are rooted in shitty stereotypes propagated by marketing campaigns like this one, and pop culture. “who’s your spirit animal?” “what’s your REAL indian name?” “can you conjur up the dead?” this shit happens on the daily, and it sucks. this is racism. and this is psychic violence. calling out companies like these ones for their poor decision making for their marketing campaigns can hopefully at least start some conversations and get people thinking a little more critically.

      i’d also recommend looking around on this website for earlier posts, because i feel like Adrienne adequately responds to all of your questions.

      • http://twitter.com/Leo_Godin leogodin217

        “Let me guess, you’re white, right?” What tipped you off? Maybe it was me saying ” Maybe that’s just me being white, male and middle-class?” So, yes. I’m white.

        ‘the questions are rooted in shitty stereotypes propagated by marketing campaigns like this one, and pop culture. “who’s your spirit animal?” “what’s your REAL indian name?” “can you conjur up the dead?”‘

        I’ve never asked anyone questions like this. Are you saying these are typical first questions most white people ask Native Americans they meet? I find that hard to believe, since most white people probably have no concept of a spirit animal or conjuring up the dead. It sounds like you are propagating stereotypes here.

        “i’d also recommend looking around on this website for earlier posts, because i feel like Adrienne adequately responds to all of your questions.”

        I have read many posts on this site, and have commented on many. I subscribe to the site on Google reader. I get much of the angst, but like I said, in this case I don’t get it. Just like in the post about a woman wearing a shirt with feathers on it. In some cases the angst doesn’t seem warranted. That doesn’t make it any less real, but does make it more difficult for others to understand.

        • http://www.facebook.com/erikakharada Erika Harada

          “I’ve never asked anyone questions like this. Are you saying these are typical first questions most white people ask Native Americans they meet? I find that hard to believe, since most white people probably have no concept of a spirit animal or conjuring up the dead. It sounds like you are propagating stereotypes here.”

          …Really with this? You claimed that being empathetic was important to you, but you kinda fail at it.

          • http://twitter.com/Leo_Godin leogodin217

            Empathy doesn’t mean that I blindly accept every statement as fact. Questioning is a good way to get down to facts.

            • Phred

              Or you could just shut up and listen when people talk. It’s another good way to learn about other people’s experiences. Dude, seriously – check your privilege.

        • http://alagarconniere.wordpress.com/ julia

          i apologize for clearly not having read your comment in full before pressing “reply,” but i’m also not a fan of unnecessarily catty comment discussions. you didn’t need to be so dismissive in your tone.

          find it as hard to believe as you want, it happens to be a lot of people’s lived experiences. see this video for more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mKZ7PBfCXA

          if you are genuinely curious, or as you put it “complete sincerity” and just “really want to know,” i’d recommend you don’t respond with doubt when people do actually take the time to share their stories and respond.

          just because YOU haven’t asked questions like those ones doesn’t mean they don’t get asked. just because my criticisms don’t reflect your daily life does not make them any more or less valid. the tone of your comments speaks a lot louder than your polite disclaimers.

          my argument is pretty clear: no, this campaign is hardly the worst thing out there. but it’s not harmless. it’s outdated, misguided stereotyping. on a small scale, yes, but it remains just that. it’s part of the many aspects of colonization that still live and breathe today, that i, and many others, think deserve a bit of resistance and reaction.

          asking companies to think critically about their marketing/branding choices takes about as much time and effort as commenting on a blog, so i don’t see why there needs to be debate for you to understand why “the angst,” as you dismissively call it, is warranted or not, in your books.

          • http://twitter.com/Leo_Godin leogodin217

            ask any native person, or mixed-race native person, what the first questions are when a white person finds out they are native. the questions aren’t, “tell me more about your tribe/culture.” the questions are rooted in shitty stereotypes propagated by marketing campaigns like this one, and pop culture. “who’s your spirit animal?” “what’s your REAL indian name?” “can you conjur up the dead?”

            This is your quote. Do you still stand by this statement that the first questions white people ask Native Americans include spirit animals and raising the dead? And to any Native Americans on this forum, have you been asked these questions multiple times?

            • http://alagarconniere.wordpress.com/ julia

              you’re being unnecessarily combative. yes, those were some examples of some of the rude, stereotypical responses that i have heard that i commented when you asked “do you feel people who meet you assume you are somehow primitive, mystical and in essence fictional?”

              i could have just said, “in short, yes” but thought it would be helpful to give examples.

              i really don’t see this conversation going anywhere.

              • http://twitter.com/Leo_Godin leogodin217

                I’m being unnecessarily combative? That’s quite a statement Coming from the person who opened her side of the conversation with “you’re making yourself sound incredibly naive here. let me guess, you’re white, right” and didn’t even read my whole post. I’m willing to put the hostilities aside if you are.

                I’m trying to learn here. If I weren’t I wouldn’t read this site. Instead, I would continue living in blissful ignorance.

                I don’t want to be ignorant, so I seek out truth wherever I can find it. However, like most people, I do not just accept every statement as truth. Often I will question things, particularly claims that seem outrageous like it being typical to be asked questions about raising the dead. In the followup posts and in the video I see that it is typical for white people to ask questions that expose their ignorance. That’s a far cry from raising the dead, but still hits at the heart of the matter that we view Native Americans as some sort of mystical magical beings, and thus, not really as people.

                Even in my limited understanding, I can see how dehumanizing that could be. I realize race relations are more subtle and nuanced than a single statement, but is that the crux of it? These stereotypes dehumanize Native Americans? This is an open question to anyone here.

            • AK

              You would be surprised. I am a white woman but I was in a relationship with a Hopi man for many years and he absolutely got questions like that. My favorites were people asking him what his real name was (that one happened constantly) and people asking if he could bless them/help them on a vision quest/other random new agey vaguely shamanic stuff. This often happened within moments of meeting him, so they knew nothing else about him, not even whether he practiced the traditional Hopi religion. My other favorite was when people would say something to him in a Native language that he didn’t speak. Particularly bad was the time that some white guy from Illinois didn’t believe that he couldn’t translate an Iroquois blessing, despite the fact that my partner kept repeating that he was in fact Hopi and had no reason to know the Iroquois language or be familiar with their religious ceremonies.

              We also once got to sit through some white kid lecturing him about the Hopi religion and how apparently my partner was wrong about how his own religion worked just because this white New Age guru said so. Even I got comments like the ones julia described, like how I was so lucky to be dating such a spiritual man (from people who had never met him or known anything about him except that he was Hopi, because all Native Americans are so spiritual amirite), or asking me if I could get them into a sweat lodge or on a vision quest.

              There absolutely is a belief among many white people that Native Americans are mystical magical beings rather than, you know, real live people with strong and distinct cultural traditions. Stereotypes like the ones this company uses just further that.

            • http://slates.wildfireweb.com/1744527638 Jack Skye

              Why are you so intent on questioning the experiences people are sharing with you? Just because you, as a white male haven’t experienced this (and really you have no reason to have been exposed to this) doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I can ‘pass’ in many situations and I still get asked these types of questions. Frequently. Usually right after someone tries to guess my race by commenting on my facial structure. Unfortunately I don’t know any First Nations person who can’t share similar experiences when the topic comes up.

              Frankly, “I find that hard to believe, since most white people probably have no concept of a spirit animal or conjuring up the dead. It sounds like you are propagating stereotypes here.” just sounds like more of the ‘I don’t see colour therefore racism doesn’t exist’/’people of colour promote racism by speaking out about experiences they have with racism’ type arguments that many of us have to put up with any time we try to make our voices and experiences heard. What do you want us to do, walk around with tape recorders to prove to you that we experience what we say we experience?!

            • Haidagurl

              Yes. Many, many times. People are rarely trying to be mean, usually funny or somehow worse, sincerely want to know the answers to those questions.

              Of course, I know many white people as well who know better that to ask/think those things. But they generally got to the place of knowing better by listening to Native people that they knew and stretching their understanding (a long, painful process for all of us, no matter where we come from). But listening is not just a process of engaging someone in conversation. It involves silencing the doubts raised by your own experiences long enough to truly internalize and process whatever stories, information, or experiences they are willing to share with you. And at the end of the day, you still may not understand. But in truth, you don’t have to have full understanding of why someone is hurt by something to recognize that they are. Just respect. Questioning the voice bravely expressing that hurt is inherently disrespectful – which I doubt is what you were going for.

              But I suspect this is the reason for the combativeness you’ve encountered on this board leogodin217.

              If you are serious about employing your empathy and working to understand these complex issues, than I suggest you put aside your skepticism for a while, and listen fully to what people are saying here, accepting that your experience is different enough that you won’t understand them on first or second glance, and that chances are, you’ll still have a ways to go on the 102nd glance. Don’t expect to immediately get it, or assume that because you don’t it has no validity. And when you ask for help towards getting it, treasure that feedback, process it, do everything you can to understand it. Because no one owes it to you, and frankly (speaking from great amounts of personal experience) it is taxing and difficult every time a Native person enters a conversation like this – necessary and inevitable as it is – and even with the most well-meaning non-Native person.

            • Susan W

              Yes, Leo, we get asked these questions all the time. Other such questions are, “How much money do you get from the casino?” (not a penny, unless I go play the slots and win) “where’s your Indian costume?” (We don’t wear “costumes”. We wear traditional clothing or regalia..) If we look of mixed blood we also get “So just what part Indian are you?”

              I’ve been called a squaw (what do you think they’d say if I called them a whore too?), a breed and other derogatory things. I’ve definitely been asked what my “spirit animal” or “Indian name” was the first time i met someone.

              I’ve also been elbowed and winked at and asked “so what do they reallly smoke in those pipes and can I get some?” (It’s tobacco and if you’re smelling something else in the area, it’s likely to be sage or sweetgrass.) I live in Metro Detroit and get asked all of these questions quite a bit. I’ve also had people put their hands to their mouths and go woowoowoo at me or say “How” to me. (We don’t do either of those things.)

              Once my husband and I visited my Mom in another state. The girl who waited on us in a grocery store took one look at my husband and started slamming things down on the belt and giving us the nastiest looks. I didn’t realize until we got out into the parking lot, and someone told me that she hated native people, just what her problem was.

              So yes, we get asked those questions and worse, the first time we meet someone. If we sometimes seem defensive, at least in my case, it’s because we’re tired. Tired of being asked the old tired questions, tired of looking at images that some only think represent us when they don’t, tired of having to fight tooth and nail to have people not look at us as less than a real human being., tired of people telling us there is no such thing as racism against Native Americans. (Yes I’ve heard that too, during a time when a local school board was in the midst of changing a high school mascot from the Redskins.)

              Oh yes that reminds me. In one of my classes about 14 years ago, a preschool teacher asked for my help. One of her mothers was teaching her children that
              “Indians are not human beings”. (I kid you not.) She borrowed some of my pictures of my husband and his friends in their regalia and in regular clothes. The mom didn’t care. She looked at the pictures and told the teacher “those are not humans” I have no idea what she thought they were then, He throws his dirty socks on the floor, will spend his last dollar to make sure I have what I need, will stop to change a tire for an elderly lady, has in fact pulled an elderly lady from a burning car (He drives a semi and is on the highways a lot.) loves me and our kids, enjoys meat and potatoes, Star Wars and classic cars, calls his mom regularly and said my mom and sister can move in with us, sounds like a normal human male to me.

              I’m rambling a little, I have a cold, but my point is, yes we get asked all of that and more. I do appreciate the fact that you seem to have asked bcecause you wanted to learn and had no idea that people actually still did and thought those things about us.

              • http://twitter.com/Leo_Godin leogodin217

                Wow, that (basically all of what you’ve experienced is horrendous). I’m sorry for those things. What a cold, selfish and ignorant world we live in.

            • http://cerena.tumblr.com Cerena

              Yes, every day. And the fact is, you didn’t need to get a consensus from us to confirm it. You could just as easily ask some of your friends what they know and think about Native peoples, or ask someone at the bar, better yet. If you are interested in being an empathetic part of the solution, it would be very interesting to see what your friends and even strangers confess to you, a self-identified ‘white person,’ about what they think of when the phrase “Native Americans” comes up, or what they think of when they hear the word “savage.” I suspect these stereotypes are playing a part in their daily lives and I suspect with a little sleuthing you could suss that out and be just as big a part of the solution even while you are seeking your answers.

              The worst is my name. I want people to ask me my name; it is a beautiful name. I want to share it with the world I am so proud of it. Someone prefacing the ask with “Is it like Sitting Duck or something like that?” is hurtful and shaming, even if this is one of my friends, and it happens often.

              I suppose it is similar to not caring whether or not someone is Chinese or Korean. ‘I mean, they all look the same’ is what I would sometimes hear in response to that. We not only ‘all look the same’ to the greater world, we are consistently appropriated to be the same, in a world where the phrases ‘Oriental’ or ‘Asian’ are replaced with ‘Japanese’ and ‘Phillipino.’ Respect and graciousness will spread only as much as we each, individualy, perpetuate and maintain respect, graciousness.

    • Becky

      Think about it. Until not that long ago it was illegal for FN peoples to practice their cultures/religious ceremonies/languages, but non-FN people have been freely “borrowing” from those cultures and using them as marketing schemes. At the very least it’s a slap in the face of FN people. Being a bit “new agey” myself, I still have to question the honesty of anyone claiming to have been given sacred knowledge from someone who had to hide this aspect of his or her life – I just can’t find that credible. If I was FN, I would be embarrassed to see myself portrayed in this manner – and then I’d be angry that one of a people who had prevented me from honouring my own traditions was now trying to make money by mocking those traditions – and angry that I found myself embarrassed. And many people do have those stupid stereotypes in mind when they find out someone is FN. I’ve heard people ask “can you do a rain dance?” It wasn’t meant to be hurtful, but really, can’t people think of something more intelligent to ask?

      • http://twitter.com/Leo_Godin leogodin217

        I never thought of it that way. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    • http://twitter.com/Subimaginati Dawn Mckenna

      Firstly, angst is typically depicted something teens have, it comes off as condescending.

      No, maybe about it, you don’t get it precisely because you’re white male and middle class. You might as well expect a fish to comprehend the exact feeling of how a bird flies as for you to expect to just get it because nowhere in your life do you encounter negative mainstream depictions of your race that make you feel lesser for being white.

      If Empathy was important to you, you’d be doing more listening and less trying to justify how you’re the totally empathic white guy who is worth a minorities time and effort to educate because he isn’t like the billion others who ask stupid questions because they don’t read.

      How would you like it if tomorrow you woke up and everywhere you looked there are either insulting or offensively fetishized stereotypes and caricatures of white people? How would you feel in a world where your group was never depicted like you in media ever. You would feel alone, you would feel erased.

      When white people talk about Indians and Native Americans and Tribes, we don’t talk about them at all. We talk about something we label with those words and then we expect Native Americans to live up to a mish mash idea because we hold it without every considering that they have their own culture and religion to follow. We demand that they become our “dances with wolves”, “great chief sitting bull” “squaw” or any other ridiculous and offensive stereotype that we childishly populate our media with because we apparently think we are the only “real” people who need to be seen in media.

      We make them actors on a stage and pull on their strings, then we reject their words of pain and blame them for not wanting to be erased and bastardised. We squashed and bastardised their beliefs, their future, we took their land, their identity and then people like you demand that they explain why they are upset?

      In a word where native americans are shown as people, not stereotypes, there wouldn’t be a problem. Native Americans however are always depicted as stereotypes and that is why the stereotypes are hurtful, because they are the background radiation of people lives, lives that have been disrupted and harmed by racism. It’s just another reminder of how we don’t think they’re really people.

    • http://twitter.com/Leo_Godin leogodin217

      Wow, there has been a terrific discussion. I thank all of you for participating. I understand how frustrating and exhausting it must be to go through this again and again.

      Firstly, I apologize for the tone in my original post. It was not intended to offend, but certainly did. In particular, the choice of “angst” was a poor one that started the post off with a negative tone. My intent was to ask questions, not to invalidate anyone’s experiences or feelings.

      I’ve spend a lot of time thinking about this post, and how we can communicate better to deal with the issues of cultural appropriation (Native or otherwise). I wrote a post that’s too long to put here, feel free to read and comment. http://leogodin.net/story-in-life/story-in-life-ignorance-is-bliss/

      Again, thank you for the thoughtful discussion. I believe it is truly the only weapon we have against cultural ignorance.

  • Melinda

    Yup! I’d totally buy these energy bars if they didn’t make me embarrassed on behalf of white people the world over.

    – A white lady

  • M. Specialfxlady

    “Obviously you don’t understand my positioning and that is ok…”

    Stereotypical response of privilege, to assume the other party is ignorant and/or illogical. Ugh, and of course that dude is from Austin…

    Adrienne, I love what you wrote but I would change one thing:

    “So your company is not “too light hearted for [our] taste,” and we can take a joke. But I’m sorry, I don’t find this funny.”

    I would take out the “I’m sorry” part.

    I know how you meant it, but fuck that guy. Really.

  • Douglas Christensen
  • Anonymous

    Damn, I’m just now moving past the point of wanting it to be an intentional joke or poor satire but now… they’re not just taking a failboat ride but navigating the loseitania. -8mph Ansible

  • Wahineilikea75

    Well done Adrienne. Your reasoning is always very clear, and anyone who could fob you off with “I’m sorry you were offended” after reading this is just an idiot.

  • Veruca

    ” To call yourself a “tribe” and a “nation” trivializes the 500+ years that we have been fighting against colonization and fighting to keep our tribal rights.”

    Neither “tribe” nor “nation” are exclusive to the various First Nations in North America. There are tribes all over the world, and Ancient Rome actually had tribes too. The word “nation” is also widely used to describe unities between all sorts of different people. I understand that this company is insulting, and they are mocking(although not in a mean spirited way) the many different cultures of our indigenous people, however, you seem to dismiss anyone that doesn’t agree with you, and that’s probably why they get so defensive. No, maybe he does things that you wouldn’t, or that your elders would find stereotypical, however dismissing his heritage because of that fact would be on the same level as someone looking at your picture and saying “theres no way you’re Cherokee, you’re too white.” Just because he uses stereotypes and jokes for his company doesn’t mean he doesn’t know any of his tribes history, and it’s a little arrogant to assume that he doesn’t, based on his company and his email back to you. Fight the stereotypes, yes, but you’re never going to make everyone agree with you, and by using in your face tactics you will have an even harder time getting people to understand things from your point of view. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, and shoving his nose under the water is only going to make him fight you.

    • Qacarlar

      Unless you call out foolishness when you see it, it will perpetuate.

      Also, I’m a member of a tribe. An actual tribe based on shared bloodlines, culture, religion, and history. I am not Native American. I’m Iranian.

      To be frank, I have yet to hear of a European-descended individual with a tribe. The closest thing I’ve encountered is the Scottish Clan, which isn’t a perfect analogue by any means.