I always wanted to become an Indian. Thanks to my friends that happened. I was trained. They sent me to Arizona. I met the chief. They now call me »Talks to the hand«.
This neat and warm commercial of Polish mobile phone network Orange we can marvel at in television nowdays. Neat, warm… and completely detached from reality…
Not looking at naivety of the idea of “becoming and Indian” – old “as the world can be”, even “advertised” in Poland in the 60’s in the book of Wiktor Woroszylski, and later a movie based on it (and yet, it was meant in a little different meaning, too) – this advertisement is an excellent image of a stereotype of Native Americans creeping in, seemingly, intelligent and “world oriented” circle of marketing people. An image of a noble savage in eagle-feathered war bonnet and beaded buckskin clothes, living in a tipi (at least it’s good that it’s not “wigwam” anymore), riding a horse, smoking peace pipe… and unaware of existence of mobile phones.
Yet, it’s not the first such “blunder”. Some four years ago one could take part in competition with prizes of Polish branch of BP. The name? „Find a warrior in yourself”. „Indian” motives included, of course. I’m not gonna be mean to the agency that ran this formula. Marek Nowocień, once very active participant of the Polish American Indian Friends Movement formed it far more subtly: So far in these ads […] old and newly rediscovered, often absurd, “Indian” connotations and allusions keep coming back. Rarely correct, wise and humorous, they usually address only shreds of popular knowledge, medial cliches, and primitive associations. They play with people simplified to cartoony personas[…]. Unethically, free of charges and consequences, they abuse — and often falsify, too — ones image. Such as: where you could see a warrior in a person, that ought to hunt for a prize in meaningless competition?
It hurts, that in Poland (but I guess we’re not an exception) Indians, and in general every other native peoples, are turned to medial mascots, when needed. I assume that if you’ve shown the mentioned commercial to aboriginal of Arizona, sure one would burst with lenient laugh. And not just because it presents and image so incredibly cliched it’s almost obscene, it’s simply full of factual errors. Even the opening assumption, to become an Indian, is erroneous. How does one become an Indian? By changing ones genome? I admit, I have never heard about such process – especially made by Natives (except maybe, described in legends, separate cases – but usually that would be animals).
Being fully serious, the icon of “Indian culture”, simplified to that of from commercial, is wrong as many times as there are Indian tribes – and so, according to current data, 562 in the US alone. Each has own culture and traditions, not necessarily – especially in Arizona – connected to war bonnets and peace pipe (on a sideline, even that expression: “peace pipe” is at least incomplete). The process of becoming a tribal member is far more fascinating that “meeting the chief” and “getting a name” described in the ad. The creators of it haven’t even bothered to check that in many tribes (in the US) we deal with dual government – traditional (i.e. chief/chiefs) and so called IRA (Indian Reorganization Act). Often “becoming” a tribal member means an official adoption by the tribe – a situation that is complicated and prone to abuse, I’m though pretty sure it’s not what they meant. A moment of Internet search would be enough to find many stories and accounts, even from Polish people, about the stay in Indian reservations. The stories of selfless search for knowledge, sometimes ending with staying on the reservation and being treated “as equal” by Natives. It seems though that the authors, and – frighteningly – those who approved the ad, chose to use wide-spread schemes.
Ironically, mobile phones would most likely work only in bigger towns, although, from own experience I know it’s not the rule of thumb. I won’t mention the cost of roaming connections – looks like Orange neither would… such is life.
Zwierzenia Cienia (polish); 170, Tawacin 5/2005