By S.E. Ruckman
Thanks to Indian gaming revenues, business savvy tribes are investing in short clips (I loathe to call them commercials) that quickly educate, expand or redefine a tribe’s profile. Commercials usually plug a product so that term could loosely fit.
These clips are like the newest fad in our tribal neighborhood. One tribe started them, others followed while those without them make fun or save their money to get one. When done well, they do garner attention that augments a general pride in our fellow tribesmen.
Media perception is a powerful thing and Indian Country is no less susceptible to the onslaught of subliminal and obvious messages. On the surface, these tribal snapshots seem a triumph; who better than the tribes themselves to say that the old ideas of Indians as passive-aggressive children of Destiny are outdated?
One of the pitfalls of these commercialized efforts is that new Indian stereotypes are often perpetuated by these well-meaning messages. Stereotypes are potent forms of identification and can mistakenly mislead like grandma as wise cook or those with glasses as smart.
If the commercials promote any stereotype, it's the stereotype of the wise, sensitive Indian. Traditionally these Indians are elders, but the ads usually use well-groomed Indians in their 30s and 40s. It's a passing of the baton to the new generation--a modern young group of wise, sensitive Indians.
Of course, Oklahoma's ads may be different. If they are, they'd be wise to take the California Indians' approach. Talk about caring and sharing, not gaming and casinos.
For more on the subject, see San Manuel's PR Strategy and People of the Pines Documentary.
Below: A scene not seen in a typical tribal infomercial.