Driving down Route 1, I saw the so-called “Big Freeport Indian” sculpture. Wondering if it marked a Native American-owned shop, I found that it was built by a non-Native American Freeport business owner, Julian Leslie, as a marketing stunt in the 1960s. As I dug deeper, I found articles applauding Leslie for his “innovative” and “entrepreneurial” spirit, celebrating his smarts for cracking the marketing code.

As a longtime brand strategist and marketer, I find the “Big Freeport Indian” to be a tired and appropriative approach to marketing.

The best brands co-create with like-minded individuals to bring their story to life. Think celebrity partnerships like The Rock for Under Armour, whose shared loved for fitness shines through. The same way you wouldn’t launch a campaign featuring Tom Brady without his permission, without his approval and partnership and without paying him, I wouldn’t expect a brand or business to use the likeness of a person or culture without working with them, paying them and partnering with them.

Without partnership, it’s appropriation.

I thought about other brands that use these cultural stereotypes to sell: brands like Land O’Lakes butter, whose packaging depicts a Native Ojibwe woman, brands like Chiquita Banana. The Black Hawks and Indians sports franchises. The list goes on.

Are the people or cultures represented in these advertisements part of the creative process? Are they being paid? Are they being celebrated, or are they just totems? Are these brands making positive contributions to the cultures they’re depicting? In the case of the “Big Freeport Indian,” the answer is no. It’s a self-admitted marketing stunt designed to grab attention without realizing the harm it does.

It’s time for the “Big Freeport Indian” to go.

Lydia Leavitt Cox

West Bath

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