Pprominent Denver company exploits American Indians by using their images to sell buffalo products, according to the country's biggest Indian newspaper.
But Will McFarlane, president of the Denver Buffalo Company, which has a restaurant and sells other buffalo items such as decorative skulls, says he has nothing to apologize for. The president of a Denver Indian business group agrees--up to a point.
Indian Country Today newspaper, in which the report was published, has a circulation of about 20,000 and is distributed throughout the United States and sixteen foreign countries. The story, in the paper's August 24 edition, included complaints against other white-owned companies, including one whose owners claimed to have been made blood brothers with the Sioux tribe. The owners retracted the claims and apologized when contacted by the newspaper.
The newspaper also named USA Prime Company as another Denver transgressor, saying it sells "Big Medicine Buffalo Strips" using the image of an Indian in a headdress "without any acknowledgement or payment to any American Indian." (USA Prime is now U.S.A. Prime Meats Inc.; its president, Gary W. Sullivan, could not be reached at the telephone number listed in the Denver directory.)
The complaints were brought to the newspaper by the Intertribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC), which is made up of 37 tribes that are trying to compete with non-Indian interests in raising and marketing buffalo. The ITBC contends that buffalo products are being sold through advertising that ties non-Indian-owned companies to Indian cultures.
In recent years, the ITBC and other individuals and groups claiming to represent Indian interests have made increasingly proprietary claims on buffalo being raised for market. Issues include how buffalo, a sacred animal to some tribes, are raised and killed. Critics contend the animals should remain as free as possible while on the range. Others say tribes should be given a monopoly on the buffalo business.
MacFarlane says he was surprised by the article, because his company has a history of working with the tribes and the ITBC. "We've had powwows at the restaurant," he says. "And we've worked with them regarding education on how to raise and handle buffalo, as well as finding new markets."
Since the article appeared, MacFarlane says, he has met with Ben Sherman, president of the Western American Indian Chamber of Commerce in Denver, over the issue of the company's business cards and stationery. The logo depicts an Indian on horseback watching over a herd of buffalo.
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"It's my understanding that [Sherman and others] are mostly concerned about the use of sacred or religious images or customs," MacFarlane says.
But it seems that someone needs an interpreter.
Sherman says he has no problem with white-owned businesses dealing in buffalo products. They just shouldn't use Indian images, he says--"but we're getting it all worked out with the Denver Buffalo Company."
However, Fred Dubray, the president of the ITBC, appears to have taken a harder line. Dubray didn't return Westword's calls, but he earlier told Indian Country Today: "I've gone round and round with the [Denver Buffalo Company] and told them that they were exploiting the Indian people. Will McFarlane said he didn't see it that way. I told them nothing had been paid to any Indian for the right to use the image, and that didn't change their mind."
MacFarlane says, "If it's offensive, we'll put a cowboy there instead. It really is a non-item.