August 05, 2009

Duluth shop sells "drunk Indian" shirts

Duluth residents criticize 'racist' T-shirts in Canal Park shop

The city's Human Rights Officer visited the store after receiving complaints about "My Indian name..." T-shirts.

By Sarah Horner
As an American Indian, Donna Blue Bird said she has had to deal with racism all her life, but it’s not often as blatant as the kind the Duluth woman came across today in Canal Park.

Hanging on a clothing rack at the Canal Park retail store I Love Duluth, Blue Bird, 51, found two T-shirts. One of them said, “My Indian name is ‘Drinks Like Fish’" and the other said “My Indian name is ‘Crawling Drunk.’”

“I was shocked,” said Blue Bird, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe. “It was like slapping the Native Americans in the face; giving us a black eye and letting the world see it.”
And:According to Simon Shakad, the store’s owner, nobody will be seeing the T-shirts anymore. He sold the last ones off the rack this evening and has agreed to not buy anymore.

The decision was prompted by a visit to the store last Thursday by Duluth’s Human Rights Officer Bob Grytdahl and the Co-Chair of the Duluth American Indian Commission Donna Ennis who told Shakad the Commission had been receiving lots of complaints about the T-shirts.

“We have a lot of joke T-shirts. … When we bought this one we didn’t know it would be offensive but he explained to me why [American Indians] would take offense and we agreed to take them down,” Shakad said.
Comment:  Are people really so stupid that they don't recognize a racist message when they see it? Hard to believe, but that's what the store owner is claiming.

I wonder if he has a history of insensitivity to Indians like the other store owner in the news recently. Unless he's totally clueless, I suspect the answer is yes.

For more on anti-Indian attitudes in northern Minnesota, see Racism in Bemidji and Shock Jocks Insult Minnesota Tribes.

Below:  "Donna Blue Bird (right), and her two daughters Jamie, left, and Winona Blue Bird bought these T-shirts today from the I Love Duluth store in Canal Park." (Bob King)


Anonymous said...

I failed to see anything "funny" about these shirts, if they're meant to be a "joke". I don't see it any differently if they had said in a jokely manner about other folks. For instance, would a rabid racist redneck find it funny if there's a shirt that said:

"Got Meth?"
With a pix of a half-zombified inbred. With a "redneck" worded ballcap on front. A real life junkie.
Would they find that funny or offensive? Probably the latter.


Anonymous said...

Don't Indians or Natives have descriptive names?

I have many Indian names for myself like Runs At The Mouth.

I know most natives believe Silence is Golden and I aspire to that philosophy. My "Indian name" is not against 'Indians' but against myself.

Ojibwe Confessions said...

Sometimes you just got to laugh :-0 Laugh at how stupid people are. :-0
The store owner is in his right to sell whatever he wants. Indians and people who don't agree with bigotry should not shop at this store. I can't get over how stupid and insensitive people are. Unreal.

GENO1492 said...

"Don't indians or Natives have descriptive names."

I wish I had an Indian surname--

"Redneck slasher."
"Cut throats the inbreed."
Or how about:
"Custer Killer"?

But unfortunately as a "Native", I don't have one. My first and last names are pure English. Sorry buddy, but not all Indians can have "descriptive names".

GENO1492 said...

Again this latest incident occured in the midwest(not far from Rapid City). So I guess it really is racist out that way, eh?

dmarks said...

Geno: Or how about "Dances With Annoying Stereotypes"?

Rob: I've seen a "My Indian Name is Dances With Beer" shirt "in the field". That is, some white guy walking down the street wearing it. And it was a different brand/style than the shirts in your photo. Which means that more than one company sells them.

I saw this shirt in the Midwest, too.

dmarks said...

Anon asked: "Don't Indians or Natives have descriptive names?"

How many Natives do you know?

I've known many modern Indians. Not a single one has had a full descriptive name given to him. Some had partial formerly-descriptive names handed down, like the surname of Fox or Two-Bears. I've only known one to have an Indian language first name (which might count as descriptive, but she had an English-language surname, too). Some have English first names with handed-down surnames in Indian language, such as tribal leader Frank Ettawageshik. Probably most of them I've known have "English" first and last names, like what Geno mentioned.

I'm sure there must be some Natives somewhere who have been given actual "descriptive names" like you describe, like the smiling kid character in the movie "Dances with Wolves" who was named "Smiles a Lot".

I would not be surprised if, more often than not, if you find someone going around with such a name, they would turn out to be a wannabe rather than an actual Native.

Rob said...

An exchange on Facebook:

Julia GoodFox: Reading the article, I believe that it does not serve the cause well to say that such images are offensive; the term does not capture what is truly wrong with such widespread use of anti-Native images. Hostile imagery goes way beyond being "offensive." And as we all know, such imagery takes many different forms, and is widespread throughout the United States. Kudos to the Blue Bird family for getting the word out about this, and for intervening.

Rob Schmidt: Good point, Julia. We need to make sure people realize these images are objectively racist, not subjectively "offensive."

GENO1492 said...

Dmarks, what's up with the "Dances" remarks? As if you've been obsessed with the 90's epic film "Dances with Wolves". Did you really watch that movie copiously?

Maybe the letter "D" before the "Marks" stands for "Dances", as if your Indian descriptive name would be "Dance a lot".

Rob said...

I think non-Indians have invented most "funny Indian names" to mock Indians and others. In the process they've bastardized real Indian names and turned them into a joke.

For instance, people hear legitimate names like Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse. Not understanding where these names come from, they decide the names are ripe for satire. So they invent names like Shovels the Bull or Crazy Like a Fox. Ha funny.

Whether they intend it or not, the process serves to delegitimize Indians. The effect is similar to that of a cartoonish mascot or New Age wannabe. Being Indian becomes something anyone can do by putting on a costume or adopting a "funny" name.

GENO1492 said...

Rob that's pretty good point. I have wondered about this myself. I have a large extended family setting with various different indain and non-indian family backgrounds and there is only one family member with an indian surname--"Spotted Elk". Many of these "descriptive indian names" are usually common in the plains as opposed to other areas of the U.S.. The plains indians are notorious for these sorts of names. And since the plains indian culture is widely popular(i.e. Teepees, Buffalo, Custer-Sitting Bull, Head Dress etc remember those thievin' German hobbyists?) so too are some of these ridiculous "descriptive names" of the plains, in which they also are very popular for racist stereotypical late-night comedy jokes. I think some of these ill-informed indians could really use an education on what's appropiate for an indian surname.

dmarks said...

Geno: I did like the movie. But the movie has been a source and inspiration for T shirts like these, as in the example I saw

dmarks said...

And perhaps you took offense at the "Dances With Annoying Stereotypes" joke. I'm trying to figure that one out.

Rob said...

For a followup to this story, see Duluth Store Owner Apologizes.

Tells Only When Asked said...

dmarks asked, "How many Natives do you know?"

I'm from Southern Ontario and I knew a few full-bloods--one I remember was named WEASEL, the other was something like ROOSTER.
From work, I knew two with regular names, but one told me his Indian name, which was an animal, because I mentioned it.

Rob said...

For more on Indian names, see Real vs. Phony Indian Names and The Most Common Indian Names.

Anonymous said...

Uh, Geno. Duluth is not even close to Rapid City.
They're like 800 miles apart. That's about the same distance from New York City to Louisville, Ky.
If some Kentucky redneck makes a racist comment, then they all must be racist out the way of the Big Apple, to "eh?"
Because one moron sells racist shirts in Duluth, doesn't mean the whole Midwest is racist.
Way to take the high road against racism by making another sweeping generalization. Hilarious.

DaleVM said...

Those are some funny shirts! It would be great to mass market some of these shirts!

Anonymous said...

I'm the famous indian terrorist Bin Drinkin!

Anonymous said...

Those shirts are hilarious. Thanks for sharing.

Rob said...

If you mean hilariously racist, Anonymous, I agree.

jody said...

I like anonymous chose not to use his/her real name