An American-born businessman who owns and operates an advertising company in Germany has responded to complaints of cultural appropriation by stating he has Native American friends and that his company incorporates Native American values in its philosophy.
Gary Lin, CEO of Glispa (GmbH), a company geared to generate web traffic through marketing campaigns, allegedly erected a tipi and hired several women to dress in faux Native American garb at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, on March 19.
Elizabeth LaPensée, an Anishinaabe and Métis game developer and designer, said friends had told her a tipi would be on the expo floor. When she arrived to the conference she noticed that Glispa staff were using the tipi as a meeting room. “And two women, both of whom were non-Native, were wearing your typical inappropriate stereotypical [Indian] costume – mocking regalia,” she said.
According to LaPensée, people who had arrived to the conference before she did told her that the models were wearing less attire earlier in the day, but had since put on more clothing.
LaPensée asked the models to pose and snapped a photo. She immediately posted the image of the tipi and the models to her Facebook wall. Her friend, Melissa Bennett, a Umatilla, Nez Perce, Diné and Lakota writer, emailed the company, opposing the appropriation, and received a direct response from Lin.
In his defiant email, which can be read at length on Bennett’s website, Lin, who wrote that he is Chinese-American, declared he understands “the sensitivities around race and culture fully” and that since he founded the company more than a decade ago, Bennett’s complaint is the first he has received concerning his co-opting of Native American cultures.
Lin goes on to declare that he has a bevy of Native American friends, seeing that he was born in the Midwest.
He added that the name Glispa “comes from Navajo mythology” and that he has “adopted many of the values of Native American culture” and incorporated them into his company’s philosophy.
Bennett said Lin’s defensive response was cutting.
“I was hurt,” she said. “I am really tired of seeing that kind of stereotyping again and again and again.”
Bennett said that having Native American friends does not grant an individual the right to appropriate indigenous cultures.
Opposition to Glipsa’s cultural co-opting also erupted online when Jacqueline Keeler, a Navajo and Yankton Dakota writer, tweeted the image of the tipi and the pair of women in imitation Native attire to her more than 1,700 followers.
Based in Berlin, Lin has even included Native American images on Glispa’s website. The background visual on the homepage includes indigenous people sitting and working near a large collection of tipis.
LaPensée said she had hoped Lin would have been understanding and listened to reason, “but instead (he is) defending,” she said, adding that he is “unapologetic.”
LaPensée also wondered what part of the hyper-sexualization of Native American women falls under his definition of Native American cultural values.
“[Native Americans] are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races, and one in three Native women reports having been raped during her lifetime,” she wrote in an email.
The conference ended March 21.