September 05, 2015

Natives denounce Indian Lot t-shirts

Natives blast T-shirts adorned with beer bottles, dream catchers

By Kevin AbourezkSome Lincoln Native people say they are concerned a T-shirt design showcased on a website this week contains images that reinforce stereotypes of Natives as alcoholics.

The shirt features the words “Indian Lot” and an image of a Native dream catcher with beer bottles hanging from it. The company that designed it said it's meant to pay homage to the once-popular football tailgating lot behind the Lincoln Indian Center.

The Corner 3 Tees company hoped to sell the shirts to people who remember the spot that was popular before the Indian Center banned alcohol there last year after some tailgaters got out of control, a spokesperson said in an email.

“The lot in question netted the owners a great amount of profit over the years as its popularity stemmed almost entirely from the tailgating festivities, which involved a vast amount of alcohol around various Native American structures,” the company said in a statement. “We elected to profit from the lot’s reputation in a similar manner.”

'Indian Lot' T-shirts that depict beer bottles, dream catchers stir cries of racism

By Colleen FellRebekka Schlichting, a UNL graduate student and member of the UNL Inter-Tribal Exchange student organization, said the T-shirt design is a slap in the face to Native American culture.

“The dream catchers are sacred, and the beer bottles are poison in our culture,” Schlichting said. “My initial reaction to the shirts was that, ‘This has got be to be a joke, this can’t be real.’ ”

However, Corner 3 Tees, the company that was to sell the shirts—which aren’t available on the company website—doesn’t see an issue.

In a statement emailed Friday to The World-Herald, the company said, “We are confused that although the Native American community in Lincoln was and is still deeply concerned with their heritage being tied to alcohol, we found little to no outrage regarding the Indian Center being synonymous with heavy alcohol consumption on Husker game days during our research prior to creating the T-shirt design concepts.”

The statement also said, “We assumed that since the Indian Center (and the Native American community in Lincoln) had no objections to tailgaters taking part in alcohol-related festivities on their grounds, including taking pictures of bonging beers and playing beer pong near Native American structures, the community would be receptive to the T-shirts’ depiction of the very parking lot environment they sponsored.”
Comment:  Yes, clearly the company is confused. That's why its explanation badly misses the mark.

For starters, the Indian Center terminated the tailgaters' use of the lot a year ago. The shirt implies drinking is still going on there. False.

Reading the complaints, I don't see anyone saying that drinking didn't occur at the lot. Or that they'd object to a t-shirt about the drinking at the lot. By that I mean a shirt with the words "Indian Lot" and a neutral depiction of drinking. For instance, an image of a set of beer bottles, or a group of non-Native tailgaters.

That isn't what the shirts show. They show a dreamcatcher, a distinctively Native symbol, with bear bottles hanging from it. The implication is that Indian Lot was a location for drinking Indians. Or that Indians in general are drinkers.

Shirt implies a connection

Another problem is the unjustified linking of the "Native American community" and the Indian Center. Who says said community approved of what went on at the Indian Center's lot? Or even knew about it? It's false and stereotypical to suggest Indians are of one mind about any particular issue.

I can think of one way Corner 3 Tees might justify these shirts. That's if the Indian Center gave the company permission to use the "dreamcatcher with beer bottles" symbol to represent the tailgating. Then the company could say, "We asked the Indians and they said okay. They explicitly authorized us to use the dreamcatcher with beer bottles to represent Indian Lot."

That didn't happen. Instead, the company used racist and stereotyping thinking to come up with its shirts. "It's a place called Indian Lot. Drinking happens there. Let's create an image that combines Indians and drinking to represent the situation."

Suppose a black church were next to a playground with monkey bars and you wanted to commemorate that for some reason. Would you create a shirt showing blacks swinging on the bars like monkeys? Because that would be equivalent to the Indian Lot shirt. The drinking has no association with Indians except the name of the lot, but the shirt implies a connection.

For more on Indians and alcohol, see Vineyard Owner "Runs with Wine" and Vans Sells "Drunken Indian" T-Shirt.

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