The clothing company Ralph Lauren released an online advertisement for its RRL line last month that drew scathing criticism from Native Americans.
The ad’s imagery harked back to the Old West, with henley jerseys and rustic jeans displayed in faded sepia tones. And while one page touted bandanas and “Western-style” shirts, the opposite page showed a Native American sporting a feathered headdress, holding a rifle across his lap.
Another page depicted a stoic Native American man with dark skin, braided hair and a Western shirt-and-vest combo.
There’s a pervasive idea that Native Americans are a thing of the past, said Kim TallBear, a professor of anthropology and Native American and indigenous studies at the University of Texas at Austin. The idea that Native Americans no longer exist makes it easier for society to ignore their voices. Cultural representations of Native Americans are always focused on the past, she said, as seen in sports franchises like the Cleveland Indians and Washington’s NFL team.
“There’s a national delusion that we’re all dead and vanished,” said TallBear, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota. “We are contemporary, living people.”