The Absent Native: Native Americans in Advertising

by Chris Jones
Media Studies
Faculty advisor: Jamii Claiborne

This research explores ideas of colonial idealism manifested in part through images of Native Americans in advertising. The research includes analyzing several ads dating from the 1950’s and exploring what they mean today, and what their effects have been.

It is my intention in the paper to show that the exploitation of Natives has been systematic and different in many ways to the treatment of other distinct cultures and races in our country. Advertising has been one of the most pervasive media, and it is everywhere, flooding our senses. Ads try (and arguably succeed) to tell us who we are, who we should be, and what we should be buying to get there.

I postulate that Native American culture is something that we have been conditioned to view as if looking out a window into a different, less appealing world. American colonialism is romanticized in a way that neglects the cruel measures that were taken to secure the land we now call home. We glorify colonial pioneers as American heroes and the founding fathers of our country, while simultaneously enacting the genocide of an entire race of native people. The perpetuation of images built on stereotypes is punitive and unjustifiable. We have constructed an image of Native Americans akin to images we construct of animals who ruled long ago, and our practices will soon put Native Americans in that extinct role.