This investigation contains words, images and videos which may be offensive to some readers
Dress for the part
The TV advertisement is meant to elicit a shuddering sense of cold, where pizza is the source of comfort and warmth.
Amid swirling snow – a sight admittedly comparatively rare in the UK – the booming and ominous voice states: “Deepest winter and the Inuits [sic] must survive on whale blubber, harvested in warmer months” before immediately becoming chipper: “But there’s no such hardship for the Johnstons of Claremont Road, who’ve ordered Domino’s Winter Survival Deal.”
As the white family tuck into pizza, the camera pans up to show “Inuit” licking their lips at the scene.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)1 in the UK said there had been no complaints about the RBS or Enterprise ads in Part 2 of this investigation, nor any promotion for the Hibou wallpaper in Part 1 nor the Exeter Chiefs team.
But in January 2015 a complaint was made about the Domino’s “Winter Survivor” ad and its depiction of Inuit.
In an email statement, press officer Matthew Wilson said the complaint was not taken forward to a formal investigation stage and the case was closed.
He said: “We have received one complaint about this ad. The complainant challenged whether the ad was offensive because it depicted Inuit people as ‘disadvantaged’ and whether the ad was misleading because it implied Inuit must survive the winter on whale blubber.
“We carefully assessed the complaint but concluded there were not grounds for further action. We did not consider the ad was likely to provoke serious or widespread offence on those grounds and would likely be interpreted as a humorous reference to the exaggerated name of the offer, the ‘Winter Survival Deal’, rather than a comment on the Inuit people or their lifestyle in real life.
“We also noted that Inuit people do consume the blubber along with the skin of the Bowhead whale in a delicacy known as Muktuk. On that basis, we did not consider that there were grounds to launch a full formal investigation.”
Tomorrow asked Domino’s whether the actors were, in fact, Inuit and how the ad was taken forward. They did not reply to those questions or suggestions the actors were Asian, but they apologised for any offence caused.
Louise Butler, brand and digital communications manager, said in an email statement: “Our winter advert intended to be light-hearted in humour and so we would like to apologise if this has caused any unintentional offence.
“We undertake substantial advance consumer research and go through a strict regulatory approval process for all our adverts and at no point was this raised as a concern. Domino’s will also be using a fresh creative for its adverts this winter onwards.”
Domino’s did not confirm how much money was earned from the campaign, though press reports in 2014 suggested there was a 10.8 per cent boost in sales from the “Winter Survival Deal” push.2
Inuk heart surgeons eat pizza too
Whale Blubber is good,” said Brandon Pardy, an Inuk author, negotiator and hunter currently working for Labrador’s Inuk MP Yvonne Jones in Canada’s capital, Ottawa.3 “I don’t know what the relevance is and I don’t know why you would call that a hardship. Eating county food isn’t a hardship.
“I suppose it is very much easier to order Domino’s than the hardship of having to go to the grocery store too, or fetching your own eggs if you have hens that lay eggs. I don’t know if one’s culture should be deemed a hardship.”
Originally from Cartwright, Labrador, named after Nottinghamshire’s Captain George Cartwright, Mr Pardy said the Domino’s ad is not the worst he’s seen and the use of Inuit in advertising is less common in North America than it once was, though there are still points of contention such as the “Edmonton Eskimos” football team and the recent controversy over Ungava gin.4
Mr Pardy refuted the ASA statement about the Domino’s ad as “factual”, arguing that just because a people do eat a food, does not define them solely by that fact. And eating food from the land is still an important part of life, especially when imported food from the south costs extreme figures – for example, $20 for 2L of orange juice.
“There are thousands of Inuit in urban centres now, and they wear suits or they wear construction clothes and stuff like that,” Mr Pardy, 38, told Tomorrow via Skype. “And even if it were factual, do we call all Americans fat eating a burger just because one or two does?
“Just because some people in Vietnam wear the rice pointy hats, is that really appropriate portrayal of Vietmanese, just because some still wear a hat in the rice paddy doesn’t mean they all do. And it is demeaning to even imply that.
“It’s part of a continuing culture that Inuit still eat county foods and we are very proud of that and in fact a lot of times we don’t have a choice. Like eating seal, that’s actually a requirement to get your nutritional intake for the year.
“So while it might be factual that people eat walrus or whale, they also eat Domino’s, Inuit eat Domino’s too, and tacos and oranges.”
Food security is a significant issue in northern regions currently, not just for the cost of getting goods from the south, but the energy requirements for heating stores and refrigerating items. But assimilation policies have also forcibly moved communities, removed children to residential schools and the care system, restricted hunting or even killed sled dogs, changing fundamental ways of life.
Those policies were matched by “guides” from the government where “your King” instructed western practices of eating food, maintaining homes being good parents.
“You must have food. You must have clothing. You must have dog food. You must have foxes with which to trade. Hear then words of wisdom showing how you may always have a good supply of these things,” reads “The Book of Wisdom For Eskimo”, published in 1947.5
Mr Pardy said relocation of communities was one of the most devastating of many policies against Inuit. When Inuit are then made fun of in commercials, it feeds ignorance and far more serious problems than a pizza commercial, such as access to clean water and a suicide crisis in many communities.
“It’s a respect thing, for any group of people,” he said. “In Canada there’s only 60,000 Inuit so we don’t have that much political power, particularly, to address all of these issues. And I guess that’s one of the reasons why it’s easy to make a caricature of Inuit or First Nations.
“There’s 500 years of history, or 1000 years if we count when we interacted with the Vikings, where power’s been taken away. So when you make a caricature of any people, whether that’s a trans person or Vietnamese, anyone … if we made fun of British, like Austin Powers – ‘All British have bad teeth and glasses and have ridiculous exaggerated accents and only eat bangers and mash’ – aren’t we past the era of that?
“It’s fine if someone makes fun of themselves, but Inuit aren’t in deerskins only having hard winters sitting around chewing the fat – that’s not all we are. And if you lock us in history like that, then it diminishes the fact that we have doctors and lawyers and somebody that’s just finished open heart surgery on you might be Inuk and they might want to go home and eat some Domino’s because they’ve had a really hard day.
“It rolls into the entire history of subjugation and having power taken from us and caricatures. I don’t want to speak for all Inuit either in this regard, but it’s just disheartening when you see it like that.”
‘Forced into being white people’
Just like the Domino’s ad mades assumptions about Inuit dress and food, there have been continual efforts and policies to force actual Inuit to be more white.
And the white majority keep using Indigenous symbols and items for dress and promotion. So what are Indigenous peoples expected to wear? Are they free to dress as they like, or must they conform to the ruling cultures, who themselves can do as they please?
Dress traditional ways and fail to be taken seriously. Become white and be questioned why past ways were abandoned.
“If I go and I speak – and I do lectures in academia – do I wear my Native regalia or do I wear my academic regalia?” asked Scott Frazier.
“I always choose the coat and tie. My grandfather was one of the first Native American medical doctors and he wore a necktie every day of his life.
“When he got educated, you would have never seen him wear a feather or a buckskin or anything like that – he was educated. There is that group of Indians, like my grandparents, they were forced into being white people. They were not allowed to be Indians – it was either that or be killed. So they chose survival.
“I have to respect my elders, my grandparents, I have to respect what their wishes were and I don’t have any war deeds so I can’t wear a war bonnet or any of that. I can’t participate in some of the things that a lot of people do, just because I am not a veteran.”
Britain has long had fascination for observing, capturing and cataloguing everything, including Indigenous peoples. They were viewed from a position of comfort, sometimes literally as well as racially.
In 1710 Queen Anne brought four emissaries over from the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario to the UK to formalise their alliance against the French.
She was so taken with the Haudenosaunee representatives – dubbed “kings” – she had them painted by John Verelst, in a combination of western trappings and traditional items.
They were depicted as both warriors but sitting peacefully as allies. But they were also unique as paintings, with imaginings of Indigenous people usually done from afar and without any direct interaction.
The relationship at the time was, in theory, nation-to-nation, epitomised by the Two Row Wampum representing two ships, or nations, sailing side by side, separate yet equal.6
But as part of the envoys’ visit, a performance of Macbeth was stopped part way through so the guests could be put on stage and the audience could watch both theatre and spectacle.
When the National Portrait Gallery in London hosted the exhibition “Between Worlds” in 2007 featuring the four portraits, Keith Jamieson from Six Nations took the opportunity to remind Britain of the original relationship.7
He stated: “We, the chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council in a full session at the Onondaga Council House, Grand River … would like to take this opportunity to remind our English allies that these portraits are an expression of our sovereignty as nations and that we ask the Crown in Britain to remind their representatives in Canada of the commitments that we have together.”8
If the UK has forgotten that relationship, are Indigenous peoples still just something to be watched on stage, now translated to TV commercials?
“Things like headdresses, have such a strong impact,” said Dr Pratt, who was involved in the Between Worlds exhibit. “They are so beautiful to see, they’re delightful, they’re colourful, they’re majestic, but they don’t just happen by going into a shop and buying one – these feathers were earned feathers and people who wore them traditionally were very few. Very few men could achieve that.”
Ms Niro was also involved in the exhibition when the “Four Kings” were loaned from Canada. She said the representation of the envoys and also Joseph Brant was about power and control.
“It just seems like it’s done in such a way that it’s precision in how you’re accepted and when you’re not accepted, that it can be used and then it can be abused,” she said. “The imagery and what it stands for – it’s like a play of power. And it’s up to the dominant culture if they’re going to decide if you’re important enough to have a painting done or they’re not going to bother.”
And she sees a link with the commercial examples of today: “I think those symbols are known and what they represent because people never question them. Why is it so important to be on a wall in a child’s room? It’s something that Indian artists have been working against for many years.”
Why are the British still fascinated with dress and traditions their representatives and successors in North American continually worked to outlaw and ban?
“I think it’s one of those European phenomena maybe,” considered Dr Pratt, “and maybe in all societies, that the strange or the real, if you like, opposite of yourself or who you think is opposite, you’re really tempted by something that seems to challenge the very foundation of who you are because they are so different. And of course difference is always constructed.
“So the men who are on the stage were probably wearing suits, they were probably covered, they probably didn’t have a lot of feathers, they were probably made to look much more acceptable. But having said that, their skin was darker and they probably had some body adornment maybe, things like tattoos which come off.
“There’s an element, ‘Yeah, this is a gentleman but not a gentleman’. It’s the world-turned-upside-down kind of element and a lot of people have linked it to revolutionary thinking, that people explore this because they’re unhappy with whatever’s going on in their own society.
“They’re looking for a way to turn things around but they don’t know how to do it, so looking at another culture is a way of imagining yourself into the position of revolution and so the 18th century is a really big time for people being fascinated with all kinds of people and they just were going for the whole primitivist angle to see what they could find out about themselves.
“It’s a self-interested, ‘I’m going to put on feathers and see what it would feel like and then maybe I might even become wild, I might even become primitive and that would be really exciting’.
“And it probably goes both ways. Native people are fascinated with English culture or white culture – however you want to term it. It’s the ‘other’, the person who isn’t like you and you want to know more about it and play with that and see what it feels like to be in the other person’s shoes.”
Dr Pratt added: “But there is appropriation too. So I think there’s that careful line that you need to walk, you can’t totally appropriate somebody else’s culture and make it your own – that’s really dangerous.”
Does a headdress matter if there’s no clean drinking water?
Interviewees for this investigation acknowledged there are much more pressing concerns for Indigenous communities. People are dying because they are Indigenous and all the majority sees are images of headdresses or old Westerns aired on TV.
As of August 2016, Health Canada reported 132 water advisories affecting 89 Indigenous communities, plus another 26 advisories in 22 communities in the province of British Columbia as of September 30, 2016.9
Some of those communities have been forced to boil their water for nearly 20 years.
Rates of disease are higher, rates of incarceration are higher and disproportionate, rates of suicide on and off reserve are higher, thousands of Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in the past 20 years with little or no justice or even attention from authorities. Those are all contemporary problems exacerbated by or stemming from past crimes against Indigenous peoples.
So does ripping off headdresses or tipi wallpaper really matter?
RJ Jones admitted there was perhaps a generational gap when dealing with the subject of appropriation, something young people see readily online but older generations put as a lesser concern against other concerns.
There are double standards for those who use headdresses, explained RJ, such as happily repeating the “drunk Native” stereotype while they themselves wear headdresses at festivals full of alcohol. They want the image without considering the causes or addressing solutions.
“They’re willing to hold on to those stereotypes of us too,” said RJ. “If you’re going to take something then maybe educate yourself on the actual issues.
“Cultural appropriation is important to stand up against. Even though it always seems like an uphill battle, it’s against something that I feel is important to talk about.
“But in my parents’ generation too, they would be like ‘Oh you guys should be focusing your energy on something else’. I’ve had older people tell me stuff like that. But why do I have to focus on other things? How I’m represented in the media, by the masses, is important and I don’t want to be misrepresented.
“I hate that we have these images that are just a complete joke. People are not taking us seriously because of these images. Or they’ll take our images but they don’t want to take the suffering that comes with it.”
For the older generation, the objects may be offensive but there is a recognition the commercial uses can be avoided, and there are bigger problems.
Mr Frazer agreed those wearing headdresses or using a tipi are more interested in appearance than understanding. He doesn’t waste time getting upset about someone making money from, for example, a camp ground where there are tipis to rent. Yet he questions himself what is important to protest.
“I just don’t stay in those kind of places,” he explained. “I’ll go to a motel before I go to a camp ground with a tipi in it. It’s just because they don’t understand what that thing was, what that is. They think they’re just utilising the romantic image that Hollywood has designed.
“What do you want to waste your time on? Traditions? Or stereotypes? Or you want to put in time for the people if you want to heal them from that or do you want to heal them from alcoholism? We, as Indian people, have serious issues that really do need attention and they do need people on the ground and if they’re tied up in cultural pieces then that cultural piece better be significant.”
Mr Frazier maintained that multicultural Indigenous peoples are left to walk in their cultural world and in the enforced white world.
“There’s only a very, very small group of people living in an Indigenous way on this planet anymore,” he said. “A lot of us are driving cars, a lot of us have eyeglasses, a lot of us have cell phones, which stands to reason as the Native people in the Americas – the Indigenous people, the American Indian as they were called – we were very adaptable.
“We adapted everything that was shown to us as a tool, whether it was a gun or a horse, an automobile, we adapted to them, we absorbed them into our society as well.
“For myself, I don’t really get upset with too much of some of the stereotyping because it’s been done so long. But I think the United States is in a position right now where if something is inappropriate people point the finger, whereas 10 years ago they wouldn’t say anything.”
He continued: “It’s truly a different situation to have, say, your neighbour put up a little tipi in their backyard for their kids and to go into someone’s private home and see that in somebody’s room as their wallpaper.
“I’m not offended by any of it because art is art and a tipi and many of our sacred items have been utilised in art by our own people, and I don’t buy those things and that’s the way for me to fight against those stereotypes.
“I just don’t put my money into any of those things. I wouldn’t buy wallpaper with tipis on it. And I’ve had tipis in the past and it’s a novelty now, it’s not a lifestyle.”
Britain doesn’t just have individuals pretending to be Indigenous.
Dr Pratt said, contrary to perception, there are Indigenous peoples from North American in the UK but Britons are “just not looking”. Yet it can still be problematic at times for those living abroad but seeking to practice their ways, being criticised for “diluting” or “blending” the culture.
She explained: “We’ve done it our entire history as Native people, we have borrowed, we have switched, we have changed, we’ve manipulated all through our history.
“And I think there’s this kind of last gasp of the authentic: who is the authentic Indian and looking for that like it’s some kind of nirvana or some kind of badge that is going to protect you.
“Unfortunately cultures need to change, they cannot stay ossified, and for the Native American there has been a huge ossification of trying to keep the language going, trying to keep the practices going, trying to stay true to our ancestors and our grandparents and the people who taught us.
“But it’s just not possible. Some of the animals are gone, some of the plants are under threat – we can’t live in a bubble anymore, even if we ever did.”
Dr Pratt said she herself had sometimes failed to understand the meaning of her Dakota identity. Simply having “status”, as she does, doesn’t alone make an Indigenous person, she said.
In 2015, she helped set up the first horse dance in more than 70 years, reviving an old ceremony – but only after two days of testimony on the “women who have lived, breathed and cried and bled there because they face it every day, they can’t walk away from it – they can’t go to a powwow one week and have fun and go back to some other kind of life. They have to live in poverty”.
She was also involved in setting up the first Kunsi-Unci Society, the Grandmother Society on the Crow Creek [Indian] Reservation.10
“The reason that we formed the Kunsi was that we need to support each other,” explained Dr Pratt. “We can’t be isolated and really the grandmothers are the backbone of the people – they are the things that are holding everything together. And the grandmothers are raising the babies, they’re teaching the language, they’re remembering the stories, however distant and fragmented that is, it’s still being transferred.
“My view is people who want to dress up or want to come and have a weekend, just understand what the reality is and try to inform yourself before you do things – try to learn what the traditions mean.
“Why are we coming in a circle? Why do we face east? What are the colours, what do they mean for this particular ceremony?
“And the language itself is very beautiful. Like we’re trying to re-instil it by using the term Tunwin [pronounced Too Ee] is your auntie, Unci is your grandma, and calling each other those names because it re-instills those relationships that are so broken.
“And I am an outsider but I made the move, I made the effort to go and see people and listen. I learned a heck of a lot.”
The language and culture shows signs of resilience and renewal, but in the face of overwhelming oppression. Mr Frazier said in the past, the “outside world misunderstood Indigenous humility and compassion as weakness. And that’s something that we still have. The culture is robust. It’s not something that a person a hundred years ago would recognise – there’s elements that they would but there’s a lot of elements that they would not – I think there’s a big problem in maintaining the language in a lot of the tribal groups”.
He continued: “I would love to have been able to speak my own language but my grandmother forbade it in the house. We would be educated and with the prejudice and racism we would have it no more.
“We would be educated and we would not be hunted or abused like they had been in her time and so … she’s gone, I still have to acknowledge her wishes because she wanted it that way in my life. I did not learn the language.”
Recognising yourself doesn’t come from a headdress in the mirror
Mr Frazier said he doesn’t consider himself Indigenous anymore. Some of the identity comes from self, some from others.
“I mean, I take a shower everyday indoors,” he said. “But I am related through DNA to a group of people that had met the government and had signed treaties and we’ve evolved to a point.
“One of the questions is who am I and who are we and what’s our relationship to the planet, if not the universe? I think there are a lot of kids my age, maybe in their 60s and 70s, we went and we sat with old people and we listened to them talk and we asked them questions like that. And so it’s now time for us to start talking about these things to the youth.
“Some of the questions I think people my age are wrestling with are, ‘When do I become an elder? When is my story important? How can I help the tribe? How can I help the youth?’
“You’re always defined by others, what they think of you; they define you in a way that helps you identify who you are.”
To see yourself, it can’t be in the mirror – it has to be in the earth, in the reflection of water. For those laying claim to that culture, there is a lack of understanding of how frequently access to the land and water was and continues to be taken away.
“To identify who I am, if I want to see my image, I need to go and face the water or look at my face in the water at a spring or in the river and that will identify who I am,” said Mr Frazier. “When I try to identify myself, I can only make myself into a mistake.
“One of the things that’s really destroyed most of our culture is that the government put water into our houses and we don’t remember that we actually have to go to the river and get the water – and that’s when we quit looking at our own image,” he said.
”When we put all these comforts in here, that’s what seduces us into losing our culture, because we no longer connect to the land and we don’t connect to the water.
“When it rains we run inside. Now, if you were in a tipi and it rained, you would hear the water – you would hear those raindrops and every one is different.
“That’s been hard on our identity because for one, we want to be equal to the white guy and the white guy has many more advantages than we do.”
Mr Pardy said apart from ignorance several time zones away in the UK, it is also present locally. He was asked while at university in his own province if he lived in an igloo.
“We have modern telecommunications and stuff like that, but people still ask those questions and ads like [Domino’s] and all of them really don’t help,” he said. “It perpetuates the situation.”
The expectation of culture and dress is part of efforts to keep Indigenous peoples in the past and limit their future.
“People want to see Indians wearing headdresses, walking around in feathers – they don’t want to see the guy in a three-piece suit arguing a case representing water rights,” said Mr Frazer.
“And that’s one of the problems we have is that our identification – to be in this society and the economics of it, you have to wear the three-piece suit. Nobody would want to listen to you if you had a headdress on until you get into the mass media. Shoot, everybody remembers the Indian guy who’s dressed up.”
Mr Frazier said these issues of culture and language have at times been used to fragment and distract with internal arguments while land or rights are taken.
“We’re such a small voice as from the United States,” he said. “Worldwide we have a bigger voice but nobody’s listening to Indigenous people. So I think what happens is you look at the different types of approaches to community and I think Indigenous people have always been looked at as inferior and the outside culture coming to study has always been superior.
“And I think that’s bound to change. Indigenous people are starting to see themselves as equals, if not superior.”
If Indigenous peoples are superior, why are governments still promoting the original defeat and destruction of their communities? How are British names part of controlling stolen land? And who is making money from that?
- The system is based on self-regulation for non-broadcast ads and co-regulation with Ofcom for broadcast ads. Website accessed most recently on October 22, 2016. ↩
- Report on financial growth of the company in the UK from The Drum, accessed most recently on October 22, 2016. ↩
- LinkedIn profile of Mr Pardy, accessed on October 23, 2016. ↩
- CBC article on the accusation of cultural appropriation against Ungava gin, accessed on October 23, 2016. The gin recently started getting sold in the UK in supermarkets and in bars. ↩
- Issued by the Bureau of Northwest Territories and Yukon Affairs, Department of Mines and Resources. ↩
- An Onondaga nation description of the wampum, or Gusweñta, describes the relationship as brothers, each in their own ships, neither trying to steer the other. Website accessed on October 23, 2016. ↩
- NPG website about the Between Worlds exhibit. Accessed on October 23, 2016. ↩
- Quote from original coverage by the reporter in 2007. ↩
- Health Canada website outlining water advisories. British Columbia’s Indigenous health is managed by the First Nations Health Authority. Media outlet Vice reported discrepancies on the total number, while a 2015 map by CTV News found 164 water advisories affecting 117 Indigenous communities. A more detailed map of Ontario water conditions can be found here. All websites accessed most recently on October 29, 2016. ↩
- Facebook page for the Crow Creek Kunsi-Unci Society and the website of the Crow Creek community, both accessed most recently on October 29, 2016. ↩