August 10, 2010

Sioux Chief plumbing supplies

Adrienne Keene writes about the stereotypes associated with the Sioux Chief Mfg. Co. in her Native Appropriations blog.

Here's some background on the company:

A Leader in ManufacturingSince 1957, Sioux Chief has demonstrated its dedication to creative manufacturing and new product development with the ultimate goal of making plumbing installation easier, more effective, and more efficient. The values upon which the late Ed Ismert founded Sioux Chief continue to be the driving forces behind the company today: concern for the plumbing tradesman, a culture based on family, and a dedication to continuous improvement.HistorySioux Chief’s founder, Martin E. “Ed” Ismert Jr., was greatly interested in Western Americana. Ed’s father, Martin Sr., was a collector and Midwest authority of Western and Native American artifacts in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. When the time came to name his new company, it did not take Ed long, as he had learned from his father all about the Sioux Indian Nation. The Sioux Nation were a very proud and resolute people that, while being fierce and competitive, held in highest regard the family, the Earth, and especially Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit. Ed commissioned his brother Bud, an artist who studied under Thomas Hart Benton, to draw the “Young Determined Sioux Chief” in full ceremonial dress as the logo for his young determined company. Sioux Chief Manufacturing, being named and patterned after such a distinctive people would put forth an image not easily forgotten.

Comment:  I'd say the problems fall into three categories.


Adrienne notes how Ed Ismert learned "all about" the Sioux from his father Martin, another white man. And how the description of them as competitive and fierce, yet deeply tied to the earth and the Great Spirit, is stereotypical.

These things don't bother me too much. I don't think Ismert had to be an expert to apply the Sioux label to a plumbing supplies company. And the description of the Sioux is balanced, at least. Many people describe Indians this way, including Indians themselves. And generally speaking, I'm not sure the description is wrong.


As Adrienne observes, the description is entirely in the past tense. The company doesn't recognize the Sioux's continued existence. And there's no such thing as a singular "Sioux Indian Nation." The Sioux consist of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people separated into independent bands or groups.


Associating a Sioux chief with plumbing supplies is an insult to Sioux chiefs. It's like naming your company George Washington Plumbing Supplies or Virgin Mary Plumbing Supplies. You could do it, but you'd look silly and so would George or Mary.

Needless to say, the company has no actual connection to the Sioux. Choosing the "Sioux Chief" name is like naming my company Acapulco Señorita Comics because I consider the books hot and spicy. I doubt anyone would accuse me of fraud or deception, but the name is clearly misleading. The comics have nothing to do with Acapulco or señoritas.

Like most other misuses of the Indian chief, the name is an obvious ploy to make the firm seem noble, dignified, and honorable. To increase its authority by somehow tying it to America and the land. A Missouri company started in 1957...but we're supposed to believe it's as ancient and timeless as the buffalo or the Rockies.

Basically, Sioux Chief perpetuates a common Native stereotype for no good reason. Thousands of products--Pontiac cars, Indian motorcycles, pemmican packages, oyster cans--do something similar. In most cases, the association is undignified, unjustified, and stereotypical. We've eliminated products named after black Sambos or greedy Jews, but savage Indian chiefs are still okay.

For more on the subject, see Hiawatha Trains and Logo and Military Craft, Cars, and Liquor.


dmarks said...

I'd downgrade the "Sioux Indian Nation" one.

Check Leave it as problematic though; it is part of the vagueness.

Rob said...

Interesting, but not quite the same as "Sioux Indian Nation." The word "Great" is key.

I'm not sure people are using it to mean "Grand or Glorious Sioux Nation." They may be using it to mean "More Extensive or Encompassing than the Individual Sioux Nations." It could be like "Greater Los Angeles," which means a larger version, not a better one.

Anonymous said...

Most of their products are not made in the US there logo is very misleading they source many products from Asia.

plumbing supplies said...

Sioux Chief plumbing supplies are nice and cool. Also i think the price are just right. The designs and quality are considered.