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Land O’Lakes Cancels Its Century-Old Native American “Butter Maiden”

Land O’Lakes butter are displayed in a supermarket in New York City, February 15, 2017. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Land O’Lakes has redesigned its butter packaging and purged “Mia,” its longtime Native American “butter maiden” logo/mascot not only from the packaging but also the company website. This may be a victory for woke political correctness, but it is also an illustration of how that approach simply ends with the erasure of the protected group from view.

The logo has, over the years, shown a Native American woman in traditional dress presenting the company’s signature product against a backdrop of sunlight and natural beauty. The original butter maiden introduced in 1928 was kneeling, as if presenting something sacred in tribute. This posture has been criticized as unduly subservient, though packaging in more recent years has sometimes substituted a logo that cropped her head and shoulders so the posture was less obvious. There were still those who wanted the image gone entirely:

The logo had long been criticized as racist and stereotypical, with North Dakota Rep. Ruth Buffalo telling the Grand Forks Tribune the image goes “hand-in-hand with human and sex trafficking of our women and girls.” Reportedly a registered member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, Buffalo said “it’s a good thing for the company to remove the image,” but that the nation needs to “keep pushing forward to address the underlying issues that directly impact an entire population that survived genocide.”

Color me skeptical that butter labels have any effect on sex trafficking. The new packaging no longer has any Native American connection, and erases the work of a Native American illustrator:

She was originally the work of illustrator Arthur C. Hanson, and like another local fictional brand icon — Betty Crocker of General Mills — her appearance was modified over the years. Ojibwe artist Patrick DesJarlait remade Mia in the mid-1950s. DesJarlait also created the popular Hamm’s Beer bear, and his work is represented in the collection of the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul. “I have mixed feelings about it,” said Robert DesJarlait, Patrick’s son and an artist and writer, from his home in Onamia, Minn. “I’m sad to see it go, but I can understand why it’s gone. We live in a politically correct time, so maybe it was time to get rid of it. It certainly devolved into a stereotype. “But in our family, my dad’s work is a source of pride for us. He broke barriers as an Ojibwe artist from Red Lake. Back then, you didn’t find native people in those kinds of jobs, and this gave him the opportunity to put his spin on a well-known native image.”

The pattern will be familiar from similar controversies involving sports team mascots. Some of those, such as the Washington Redskins, are undeniably racist; others, such as the Atlanta Braves, are no different from team mascots honoring Knights, Vikings, Cavaliers, Cowboys, etc. But in either case, many Americans would see far less of the nation’s Native American heritage without place names, school names, and team names. Is this “cultural appropriation?” Perhaps, but Americans have always trafficked in cultural diversity in this way. Sanding down the nation’s commercial culture to remove all traces of Native American imagery simply results in a blander, more monochromatic landscape that breeds not tolerance, but forgetting.

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