A few weeks ago, Land O’ Lakes butter quietly, and without comment, removed their iconic “Indian maiden” from their packaging. This is probably going to go unnoticed by most people in our Mad Max-style grocery runs as we try to dodge each other and not get coronavirus. I wrote it off, myself as simply rebranding until one of my Artisans shared an article on Facebook about the enigmatic figure that been the face of Land O’Lakes since the 1920s.
The real history of the “Indian maiden” is that she had a name, Mia, and she was a commissioned redesign of artwork from an Ojibwe artist from Red Lake, Patrick DesJarlait in the 1950s. The Minnesota based creamery wanted to highlight their respect for the Native peoples in their area and the relationship between the two communities. Mia, since her inception, has become a ubiquitous part of American everyday life.
There are some who have accused the image of being an overly sexualized caricature of Native American women and others have accused the creamery of profiting off of Native imagery without acknowledging the contentious history between America’s indigenous peoples and the European settlers. Knowing what I know now about the history of Mia it seems like these sentiments are bleed over from profoundly serious and real issues concerning the MMIW movement, and the controversy surrounding sports mascots.
To me, it seems more like a scrubbing of the American zeitgeist of all references to its Native American heritage and had Patrick DesJarlait been alive now it would clearly be a case of disenfranchising a minority artist. One of the reasons Native American peoples have had trouble gaining traction around the myriad of social problems facing them today is their lack of visibility. Growing up in Queens, New York in the 90s I was essentially taught that Native peoples were all dead. There was no talk about reservations, their art, or the BIA. Just Thanksgiving and then genocide. This seems like another form of cultural erasure in the grand scheme of things.
I’m not saying that Mia the Land O’ Lakes mascot would have solved this problem, but it is just one more thing that contributes to the silencing of Native voices. It also does not help that the company will not explain the impetus behind this decision. On a final note, while I was browsing some of the comments regarding this bizarre decision a rather searing black piece of humor stood out to me, “So, they removed the Indian but kept the land.”