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Why are they wearing the headdress?


Drew Hayden Taylor, Windspeaker Columnist







Page 14


By now everyone has probably seen those annoying Lakota arthritis pain relief formula commercials that always seem to be popping up on television. If you haven't, you're either blind or don't own a television. They are so prevalent that you kind of get the impression that nobody quite knows pain like a Lakota. It's probably all that bareback horse riding they do. (If that were the case, it should probably be an ointment instead of a pill).

I think it was only last year that the ubiquitous face of Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman was on virtually every television screen urging people to try this herbal concoction named after his people, an American Plains Indian nation made popular by the Dances With Wolves movie. I once counted the identical commercial broadcast on one single television channel four times in one half-hour. Once, the same commercial ran twice in the same commercial block. No wonder Floyd's back must hurt. It's all the money he's carrying in his back pocket from the residuals he makes every time the commercial runs. My heart soars like his bank account.

It wasn't long before I, a loyal and devoted Native Canadian (Ojibway for those who like details), was sick of seeing Floyd's wise and handsome face. It was nothing personal. It was just that I was Indian'd out. I needed relief from the pain caused by the repeated viewing of the commercial. Luckily, like a pain in the neck, they went away. For awhile.

But like a migraine, commercials for the product line are now back, with a vengeance. No sign of Floyd anymore. Instead, we are presented with a cross cut of Canadians going about their middle class White lifestyle, all wearing what appears to be an eagle war bonnet. There are scenes of people fishing, shopping, delivering mail, and all sorts of other Lakota-related activities. I'm not sure, but I think I saw an astronaut wearing one. (Those bonnets would be so useful in space.) One scene had a man playing with a dog. I half expected to see the dog wearing one. I call these commercials the "Dances with War Bonnets" series.

It makes me ponder a number of different questions. First of all, why do the Lakota and only the Lakota corner the market on pain relief? I know several Ojibways, a couple Iroquois and a handful of Crees that get headaches and booboos too? Yet they aren't hocking some secret and special cure, other then aspirin or Tylenol. Let's widen the possibilities. For instance, get Gordon Tootoosis up there selling Cree herbal medicine. Imagine him saying "Hi, I'm Gordon Tootoosis and I stubbed my toe the other day. Nothing helped me better then CREE! It's good for what ails you. But be careful, its concentrated and powerful stuff. Just a little CREE will do you. Warning-Keep away from children. May make you drowsy."

But in reference to the Lakota commercials running now, I would like to point out that the models in the commercial are obviously White. Shouldn't it be showing the Lakotas in their natural arthritic habitat instead, going about their usual everyday pain inducing lives, to promote the effectiveness of the product? I think there should be shots of Lakotas, all wearing war bonnets, of course, making Kraft dinner, hitchhiking into town, playing pool, peeing... regular Native stuff like that.

What I find particularly amusing is the concept of the adman pitching the idea of the commercials. In these politically correct times, a non-Native guy saying "Hey, how about this! We show lots of White people running around wearing stereotypical war bonnets! Nothing sells pain relievers like that!" Seems highly unlikely. Even actionable. It seems more possible that the idea probably came directly from the manufacturers themselves, pushing the Native angle. The funny thing is, and I could be wrong, I heard a rumor that the people who own the company aren't even Lakota. I heard it's a Canadian organization owned by a Metis out west.

So that begs the question. Shouln't these be commercials with Metis running around, a fiddle in one hand and sash in the other, talking about headaches and irritated bowels from too much jigging? That makes more sense. But instead it's the Lakota. Much like the Mohawks, Apaches, Cherokees and Commanches, they have better press agents. It's true. They get all the publicity. Advertising is all a matter of name recognition. You'll probably never hear of Shuswap or Haisla joint care arthritic pain relief formula. Everybody would go "Huh?"

Except of course the Shuswap or Haisla.