For almost a century, Land O’Lakes butter was easily identifiable in the dairy section of any grocery store for its packaging depicting an Indian woman kneeling by a body of water, holding out a four-stick box of butter.
Now, the Minnesota-based company has redesigned its packaging without the woman in front and instead aims to focus on celebrating farmers. The removal was quiet — no formal announcement or explanation was made on its website.
Native Americans, however, welcome the change.
“It’s a great move,” said Adrienne Keene, a professor at Brown University, author of the Native Appropriations blog and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, told the Minnesota Reformer. “It makes me really happy to think that there’s now going to be an entire generation of folks that are growing up without having to see that every time they walk in the grocery store.”
In 2005, the American Psychological Association called for American Indian mascots to be retired, saying that racial stereotypes through inaccurate representations like the mascots can hurt self-esteem and social identity.
While Keene is happy with the change, she does think that Land O’Lakes missed an opportunity to share their learning moment with the public.
“It could have been a very strong and positive message to have publicly said, ‘We realized after a hundred years that our image was harmful and so we decided to remove it,’” Keene added to the Minnesota Reformer.
According to the Minnesota Reformer, The Land O’Lakes mascot was first introduced in 1928, when Arthur C. Hanson, an illustrator at an ad firm, wanted to come up with a design that evoked a quaint image of the “American authenticity.” At the time, using Native mascots for marketing was very popular.
In 1950, an Ojibwe artist from Red Lake named Patrick DesJarlait redesigned the woman on the front of the box. DesJarlait’s intention was to “foster a sense of Indian pride” across the midwest. At the time, in the ’50s, there were a lot of threats to dismantle tribal governments and eliminate reservations.
DesJarlait wanted the imagery to be a badge of honor, although as time went on, it turned into a stereotype more than anything else.
DesJarlait’s son, Robert, explained to the Minnesota Reformer that his father never meant to contribute to a negative image. In fact, it was incredible that his father even had the opportunity to re-design the branding.
“He was breaking a lot of barriers,” Robert said. “Back in the 50s, nobody even thought about stereotypical imagery. Today it’s a stereotype, but it’s also a source of cultural pride. It’s a paradox in that way.”
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