Bottled rage: Iced tea labels exploit Native Americans

Gretchen Ruethling

Would you like to contribute to the exploitation of Native-American culture? If you drink AriZona Iced Tea, you already do.

AriZona Beverage Co., the company that makes AriZona Iced Tea, also makes Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, which uses the name and a stereotypical caricature of a sacred Native-American hero.

Crazy Horse was a chief of the Oglala Sioux Indians and a great political, cultural and spiritual leader. He resisted the aggression of whites in the Black Hills of South Dakota, defeated several U.S. troops and helped defeat General Custer at Little Bighorn in 1876.

Throughout his life he denounced the use of alcohol and predicted that it would be the destruction of Native Americans. He is still revered as an icon for his bravery, strength of character, morality and dedication to his people.

When descendants of Crazy Horse saw his name slapped on malt liquor, they informed the Heileman and Hornell Brewing Companies about the importance of this man to their culture.

They repeatedly asked the companies to change the name, but their request was denied.

Unable to tolerate the degradation and disrespect and seeing no other way to tackle it, they brought a lawsuit against the companies.

The battle continues.

People who commercialize stereotypical images of Native Americans commonly defend this action by calling it a tribute to honor the “noble Indians.” Would it be considered a tribute to put Pope John Paul II or Martin Luther King Jr. on a bottle of alcohol?

Once the issue is compared to cultural figures that are recognized in mainstream society, the outrageousness is obvious. But the exploitation and oppression of Native Americans consistently and ignorantly receive little attention or even recognition from the dominant culture.

As long as AriZona Beverage Co. continues to profit greatly from all its products, it will keep producing Crazy Horse Malt Liquor.

A court-mandated change as a result of the lawsuit is doubtful, because free speech is a powerful defense.

But if enough people voice their objections to this exploitation by boycotting all products made by AriZona, the brewing companies will realize that it is financially in their best interest to change.

Collectively we can make a difference by putting pressure on the purse. As evidence of this, a malt liquor called Power Master that used racist images and marketing tactics to target urban youth was taken off the market after pressure from churches and social activist groups.

Although this might seem like a small battle, it reflects a larger trend of exploiting Native Americans and of oppression rooted in history that must be brought to society’s attention. They are a grossly underrepresented minority whose culture, struggles and voices are often ignored.

By allowing degrading and racist stereotypes such as AriZona Beverage Co.’s Crazy Horse Malt Liquor to persist, we are perpetuating inequality and injustice.