My Native American Father Drew the Land O’Lakes Maiden. She was Never a Stereotype.Roundup
tags: racism, stereotypes, advertising, Native American history, consumer culture
Robert DesJarlait is an artist and writer. He is from the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation in northern Minnesota.
She was never a stereotype.
That was my thought earlier this month when I heard that “Mia,” as the Land O’Lakes Native American maiden was known, had been taken off the butter box. She was gone, vanished, missing. I knew Mia had devolved into a stereotype in many people’s minds. But it was the stereotype some saw that bothered me.
North Dakota state Rep. Ruth Buffalo (D), for instance, told the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minn., that the Land O’Lakes image of Mia went “hand-in-hand with human and sex trafficking of our women and girls … by depicting Native women as sex objects.” Others similarly welcomed the company’s removal of the “butter maiden” as long overdue.
How did Mia go from being a demur Native American woman on a lakeshore to a sex object tied to the trafficking of native women?
I was 8 years old when I met Mia. My father often brought his work home, and Mia was one of many commercial-art images I saw him work on in his studio.
With the redesign, my father made Mia’s Native American connections more specific. He changed the beadwork designs on her dress by adding floral motifs that are common in Ojibwe art. He added two points of wooded shoreline to the lake that had often been depicted in the image’s background. It was a place any Red Lake tribal citizen would recognize as the Narrows, where Lower Red Lake and Upper Red Lake meet.
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