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Tim Giago

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Native Americans Invisible Consumers Out West

Posted: 02/08/11 04:00 PM ET

By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)

South Dakota television stations and corporate advertisers are equipped with blinders when it comes to recognizing the racial diversity in this state.

In Western South Dakota (on the west side of the Missouri River), for example, Native Americans make up nearly 25 percent of the population. And yet if you stopped here from say Lithuania and watched the local television stations, you would believe that the entire state population is white.

For example, one television station in Sioux Falls has been promoting its station with a series of advertisement shouting the slogan "This is your home," and in the ads citizens of KELO-Land are shown going about various activities in their daily lives. The station manager should get out of his or her office and check out the other races of people that call KELO-Land "their home" because all of the citizens in their ads are white.

Long before the first settler gazed upon the waterfalls at Sioux Falls, a city named after the Indian people of the region and the falls, Sioux Falls, as the name of the city indicates, was largely populated by people of the Dakota/Nakota/Lakota, and misnamed as "Sioux."

This was "their home" in 2011, and it is still the home to several thousand of their descendants. I do not believe that a television station say in New York City or Chicago would do a similar self-promotional advertisement without including the largest minority factions within its city.

One local telecommunications corporation is also advertising to its regional customers with television ads showing the many people using their products, and although it serves several thousand customers on the western South Dakota Indian reservations, you won't find a Native American in any of their ads. They are local, as I said, and they sure in the hell ought to know better.

It is up to the managers of local corporate owned businesses to educate their lord and masters in New York City, Chicago or Dallas about the rich Indian cultures that exist within the boundaries of their corporate extensions. You will not find an advertisement flyer for K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Sears, J. C. Penney's, or Best Buy; to name a few, that use the images of Native Americans for promotional sales.

Why does it matter? African Americans were offended many years ago by the lack of inclusion in the local advertisements although they were a large portion of the population and were, indeed, some of the best customers of the major corporations. The black leaders assumed that it was a disservice to themselves and their children to be disrespected as participants and as consumers in the closed societies of the corporations.

Because of their numbers and hence their political and economic clout, African Americans won the battle of the advertisers. Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans are now making the same observations and forming the same protests. What they are saying is that they spend millions of dollars in the corporate stores and they deserve a place at the table.

If the executives of any major corporation were to come to Rapid City on any weekend and visit the stores in the Rushmore Mall or the Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Target Stores, they would be astounded by the number of Native Americans shopping in their establishments.

The Native American population living in Rapid City and on the surrounding Indian reservations is larger than that of Rapid City itself. The corporate wizards are totally blind to this overwhelming economic factor. Why? Because their local managers have not taken it upon themselves to educate them.

The money Native Americans spend in cities like Rapid City is green. It spends just like the money offered by the white customers. Do Native Americans want to know what is on sale on any given weekend? You bet! Do they want to be recognized as consumers? You bet!

Many years ago, the former Chairman of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota, Roger Jourdain (now deceased), grew tired of hearing from his people about their mistreatment in stores of the neighboring community of Bemidji. He decided to make the entire payroll of his tribal employees in two dollar bills.

The Bemidji merchants were puzzled and shocked to see all of the two dollar bills filling their cash registers. They began to look at the Red Lake citizens with a little more respect after that because they now saw them as active consumers of goods.

The children of Native Americans should never be made to feel as if they do not belong. When they see ads after ads that depict only the white population, they begin to wonder if they are relevant. Why don't we see any of our people in those ads, they ask?

Local television stations and corporations should know the demography of a state's residents, because Native Americans do not live in tipis and ride horses anymore; they are a thriving and vital part of your state and of your economic community.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the editor and publisher of Native Sun News. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1990. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. He was the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)

© 2011 Native Sun News

 
 
 

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