The decision by dairy brand Land O’Lakes to eliminate the kneeling Native American woman offering up sticks of butter on its logo marks the end of a problematic mascot with a nearly 100-year history.
As of April 30, she—who, by some accounts, was named Mia—is still featured on products on the website. Land O’Lakes said it expects the rollout of its revised logo to be complete by the end of the year.
But, like an executive who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and decided to take an early retirement, the brand has virtually nothing to say about Mia or her disappearance after 92 years.
“As it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2021, the co-op has reflected on its treasured history and made the decision to showcase its greatest strength: its farmers,” according to a statement announcing the logo change.
In an email to Adweek, communications director Natalie Long reiterated the brand’s focus on farmers. She did not respond to questions about the prior logo or criticism from Native American advocacy groups that have called it a disrespectful, antiquated symbol.
This is not a new phenomenon.
Suzan Shown Harjo, executive director of the indigenous rights organization Morning Star Institute, has campaigned against the use of American Indian names and imagery for promotional purposes since the 1960s.
In 2005, the American Psychological Association called for the retirement of American Indian mascots based on “a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals.”
And a recent U.C. Berkeley study found that more than half of the 1,000 Native Americans it surveyed are offended by native mascots. That includes 57% who strongly identify with being Native American and 67% of those who frequently engage in tribal cultural practices who said they are deeply insulted by caricatures of Native American culture.
Moving forward with better representation
And so while advocacy groups are pleased by the change, they acknowledge that more work remains to be done.
“We take this development as a positive sign that Land O’Lakes takes seriously its corporate responsibility to treat all peoples and cultures with respect, and we encourage all companies that peddle products displaying stereotypical Native ‘themed’ imagery to follow suit,” said Kevin Allis, CEO of the National Congress of American Indians, in a statement. “Americans need to learn the truth about the beauty and diversity of tribal nations, peoples and cultures today, and discarding antiquated symbols like this is a step in the right direction.”
Leah Salgado, deputy director of IllumiNative, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the visibility of Native American nations and peoples, called the change a “great thing” because in part of representation. In fact, Crystal Echo Hawk, founder of IlluniNative and president of Echo Hawk Consulting, and a group of Native artists, thought leaders and allies, published a study in 2018 that found 72% of Americans rarely encounter information about Native people and 78% know little to nothing about them.
“A lot of folks don’t even believe we exist,” Salgado said. “There’s a gap in knowledge filled with a variety of different stereotypes and myths driven by representations in popular culture. One of those is the Land O’Lakes butter Indian princess. And, really, research has shown us, time and time again—these types of representations about Native people dehumanize us. It’s 2020, we deserve to be seen in a contemporary light. Getting rid [of the Land O’Lakes mascot] is one way we can move forward with better representation.”
Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at Pace University, said Land O’Lakes was founded on the principles of purity and wholesomeness nearly 100 years ago, and there’s “no doubt that someone such as an Indian might have represented, at the time of their launch, those qualities. [Native Americans] as people were respected for their knowledge of and respect of nature … and it probably was a very good fit in the early years of the brand.”