Hooters has stepped up to take its place along with the Gap and Victoria's Secret as a major brand using disrespectful images of American Indians for advertising. Yesterday Hooters put on a promotion that had young women posing suggestively in scanty clothing reminiscent of popular cartoon images of Pocohantas or Halloween “squaw" costumes, complete with toy headdresses.
"It is America and you can wear whatever you want," says Sarah Deer, Muscogee Creek of Oklahoma, assistant professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. "But this advertising campaign presents a problematic image. Hooters, which presents a sexualized image of women anyway, has perpetuated what I would call the fetishization of American Indian women, who are typically seen as really sexy. This is the only ethnic group in the country where women are generally seen as 'hot.' The truth is Native women are the poorest and most victimized population in the U.S."
Long-time activist Gray Wolf, Yoeme Tribe, has called for a boycott of Hooters. "This is the sexualization of Native women at a time when one in three Native women is being raped and most of the rapes and other sexual abuse they suffer is committed by non-Native men. Hooters is expressing the conquest mentality that leads to that kind of victimization." Furthermore, said Gray Wolf, "No Native woman would dress like that. It's like dressing up in blackface and having an African-American Day."
AIM Director for Southern California Corine Fairbanks, Oglala Lakota, says such forms of marketing are not only cultural appropriation, but cultural prostitution. "Corporations put out these images of Native peoples and get away with it because most people do not know about our issues and the corporations do not have a sense of moral responsibility. They wouldn't do this with other ethnic groups. It's socially irresponsible." Fairbanks says an appropriate response would be for Hooters to make a formal apology and donate the proceeds from this promotion to help Native communities or to support domestic violence programs.
Jeff Gaer, assistant manager at Hooters of Greenwood just outside Indianapolis, said he received no negative feedback while the promotion was on yesterday, but he had received 50 or 60 phone calls by mid-afternoon today.
Gray Wolf says, "As we told Victoria's Secret, Native headdresses are not a fashion statement." He notes that AIM has been successful in making that point to corporate America. Gap pulled its "Manifest Destiny" t-shirt from shelves and issued what could be mistaken for an apology. Victoria's Secret retracted a photo of supermodel and Victoria’s Secret Angel Karlie Kloss wearing a headdress and not much else and issued an apology, saying the outfit would be removed from its December 4 fashion show broadcast.
"The Hooters of Greenwood’s dress-up days are created to embrace the fun spirit of Hooters concept, and we sincerely apologize to the Native American community and anyone who felt offended by the 'Cowgirls and Indians' theme. We admire and honor the Native American culture and history and never intended to offend. Out of respect for the Native American community, Hooters has removed the images from the 'Cowgirls and Indians' event from their online sites and have announced that they will not be using this theme in the future," Hooters Corporate office statement.