Political Matters – October 2019


By Mordecai Specktor

Individual-1 to visit Minneapolis
There’s been plenty of breaking news in late September. In national politics, a whistleblower (a CIA agent assigned to the White House, according to the New York Times) became alarmed after learning that the Imperial Wizard in the Oval Office tried to extort the president of Ukraine for dirt on Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Revelations about the Ukrainian phone chat were enough for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to announce the beginning of impeachment hearings. For those too young to be around for Watergate, get ready to put the popcorn in the microwave and grab a seat in front of the TV.

And the local angle is that Trump (“Individual-1,” the unindicted co-conspirator in the federal criminal case that sent his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to prison for three years) is scheduled to visit Minneapolis on Oct. 10. The White Power rally will take place at Target Center.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has rolled up the welcome mat for Trumps’s visit. In a statement, Frey declared: “Since taking office President Trump’s actions have been reprehensible and his rhetoric has made it clear that he does not value the perspectives or rights of Minneapolis’ diverse communities…. His message of hatred will never be welcome in Minneapolis.”

A dozen or more local organizations are planning a mass protest Oct. 10 in downtown Minneapolis.

It seems like a volatile mix looming on the streets: thousands of Trumpites swarming in from the countryside mingling with hundreds or thousands of anti-Trump protesters. As Trump often says, “We’ll see what happens.”

Dior stinks
At the end of August, Time magazine reported on a controversy over a new Dior perfume call “Sauvage” – French for “savage.” According to the story, the fashion house touted the fragrance as “an authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding and secular territory.”

Time noted that there were “detractors calling the brand out for cultural appropriation.” Of course, this is the latest example of companies exploiting Native rituals and religious symbols for profit. In 2014, thousands of protesters rallied at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus when the Vikings hosted the NFL’s Washington, D.C. franchise, which employs a racial slur as the team name. When the team – which represents the capital of the United States – appeared here for the 1992 Super Bowl (XXVI), there was a similarly large march and protest at the Metrodome. The previous year saw a popular “Stop the Chop” protest, when the Atlanta Braves came to Minneapolis to play the Twins in the World Series opener.

Over the past 30 years or so, I’ve written about this variety of cultural appropriation, as it’s come to be known, including a story that involved interviews with ballplayers for the Cleveland Indians and Twins.

Anyway, back to Dior’s smelly marketing campaign for its new “parfum.” Time described a video for the fragrance brand that featured “a Native American spirit dancer performing to a drumbeat and the narration, ‘We are the land. Dior.’” Previous versions of Sauvage ads featured Johnny Depp “in the American West, but did not double down on the Native American references.” Depp was back in the “Sauvage” ad, playing a Link Wray riff on electric guitar.

In a critique of the Dior ad campaign for the online Daily Kos (bit.ly/dailykos-eagle-heart), Sarah Eagle Heart (Oglala Lakota) notes that the fashion outfit pulled the Sauvage ad on the day it appeared “due to the outrage, but most media outlets are missing the depth of how these visuals contribute harm to Indigenous Peoples.”

In her article, Eagle Heart took issue with the “sexualization of Native American women to promote the fragrance complete with the scene including tipis.” She also addresses the fact that Dior conceived the “We Are the Land” ad campaign in consultation with at least one Native organization (which later apologized for its involvement). “It should be noted that not all Native American people are experts in culture or storytelling,” she comments.
And Eagle Heart points out that the issue of cultural appropriation finally comes down to political power, or the lack thereof: “The problem is no one is listening to our community. Outrage over blackface is widely accepted and understood, but Native American people still have to deal with the redface and tomahawk-chopping R-word NFL team. Native American people with the exact same concerns that African Americans express over blackface are completely disregarded.”

I will add that corporations also are disregarding Native concerns about projects that endanger land and water: tar-sand oil pipelines and sulfide mines.