Colonial businesses used stereotypical images of Native Americans on their trademarks to convey their message that their products were “natural” and “pure.” The romantic (if not wholly realistic) images of Native Americans found on trademarks were meant to indicate to consumers that products might have age-old and perhaps mystical powers. Such messaging reinforced the harmful colonial way of viewing Native Peoples as mythical beings. This messaging is harmful due to the fact that it is based on the belief that Native Peoples were viewed as savages, thus paving the way for the racist ideologies that drove the various waves of genocide in our country.
Images of Native Americans on patent medicine labels were created by settlers to generally portray them in their interpretations of “traditional dress” in an outdoor setting. Manufacturers of patent medicines took advantage of the public’s distrust of physicians that existed at the time while romanticizing the knowledge and connection Native Peoples have with nature. They utilized this stereotypical belief to further their messaging that because their brand had Native imagery it meant that their products were “natural.” The marketing goal was to claim that their patent medicines were made from “natural” ingredients to give consumers the impression that these remedies were also free from alcohol or harmful drugs.
It is important to note that the following images are colonial stereotypical interpretations of Native American People. The misrepresentations are inaccurate and do not represent Native communities. In fact, they represent harmful stereotypes settlers had of Native People. While Native imagery was accepted by settlers, it is important to note that settlers did in fact not accept Native Peoples as part of their community. In fact, during this time period rampant abuse towards Native communities was present at the hands of settlers.
A Note on Cultural Resiliency:
The material in the links below have content that is impactful to individuals and California tribal communities with historical trauma. This note asks for care to be taken when the material is accessed, used, and circulated, especially when materials are presented to Native students and other tribal audiences. Culturally relevant protective measures are necessary to avoid re-traumatization.
Information on harmful Native American stereotypes in mass media:
- Video resource to learn about the impacts of harmful stereotypes: Jayden Lim - My Culture Is Not a Costume | Bioneers - YouTube
- Resource to learn about accurate representations of California Natives: Seven Essential Understandings – CIMCC
- Curriculum developed by the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center addressing stereotypes: The 6 P’s: California Indian Curriculum – CIMCC
- Article discussing the historical relationship between California and Native cultures:
- Norton, Jack. 2020. '“To destroy in whole or in part”: Remembering Our Past to Secure Our Future." Humboldt Journal of Social Relations 1 (42): 10-26.
California Truth and Healing Council:
In 2019, the State of California issued Executive Order N-19-15, formally acknowledging and apologizing for the state-sanctioned atrocities committed against Native American communities since the beginning of its statehood. This executive order also formed the California Truth & Healing Council that "bears witness to, records, examines existing documentation of, and receives California Native American narratives regarding the historical relationship between the State of California and California Native Americans in order to clarify the historical record of such relationship in the spirit of truth and healing."