By Simon Haupt
Television and print ads for Eska Water depict a fictional band of so-called Eskan Warriors who threaten harm to anyone daring to dilute the drink’s purity. In a 30-second TV spot running in Quebec, three men in faux-first nations garb–war paint, headdresses, and necklaces, with spears and a blowgun at the ready–attack a mild-mannered fellow as he tries to pour orange juice into a glass of Eska. His friend explains: “Eskan Warriors: Folklore has it, they’ve been protecting the purity of Eska for 8,000 years.”
Ads posted throughout the Montreal transit system play on a similar theme.
“This is a racist and degrading caricature of indigenous peoples, especially for the Algonquin people whose traditional territory includes the Saint-Mathieu-Lac Berry esker [where the water is sourced],” said Marlene Jerome, Vice Grand Chief of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council. “Natives are presented in the advertisement as primitive beings and ridiculous, again carrying old prejudices.”
The council is calling for a boycott of Eska and a full apology from Toronto-based Eaux Vives Water, which bottles and distributes the brand.
"An image, taken from YouTube, of the television ad for Eska Water."
Eska Water Pulls Offensive Ad Campaign
The print and TV ads use caricatures of indigenous people, depicting them as warriors who use primitive weapons to "protect the purity" of the bottled water. The campaign was slowly gaining negative attention with a Boycott Eska Water Facebook group starting up late last week and other calls for boycotts from First Nations groups, including the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council. The bottled water is sourced from traditional Algonquin territory in western Quebec. As of yesterday the company was still posting sort-of apologies to its Facebook page, saying they were "deeply concerned that some people may have been offended," and they had scheduled meetings with local community leaders who had publicly voiced their disapproval. The company's official Facebook page has since been taken down.
Today Gilles Corriveau, the PR guy brought in to handle the controversy, told us the campaign would be pulled immediately and they still plan to meet with local community leaders to discuss the controversy and "ensure that future marketing efforts reflect...the values of those in the community."
As for the ads' presence in Toronto, readers told us they saw ads at the Bathurst subway station (though we have yet to confirm that placement) and Torontoist contributor Corbin Smith spotted one in the free Metro papers.
This campaign has all the classic elements. "Amazon Indians" depicted as warlike savages ready to fight and kill. Used because they're too "remote" for anyone to care. And played by non-Natives, of course.
Plus the clueless advertiser thinking there's nothing wrong with depicting Indians as primitive people. The half-hearted and insincere "apology": They're "deeply concerned that some people may have been offended." Finally, removing the ads and tacitly admitting they were racist.
Once again, Indians win the "Oppression Olympics." Ad campaigns in the US or Canada rarely if ever feature other ethnic groups like this. But such things happen to Indians all the time.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.Below: "One of the offending ads, spotted by Corbin Smith."