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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Some Indian tribes say sodas are bad medicine

Kim Severson
Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Hansen's Natural Corp. is learning the hard way that flavored sugar water and American Indian culture don't necessarily mix.

The Southern California company has just released a new line of drinks called Medicine Man.

The drink, scheduled to hit Bay Area shelves in about a month, comes in four flavors: Comanche Bitter Root, Cherokee Cloud Berry, Zuni High Desert Melon and Shoshone Prickly Pear Nectar. The labels feature authentic Indian artwork along with the story of each tribe and a tribal leader's signature.

But as far as some tribal members are concerned, the drink is nothing but sugar, hype and exploitation — despite the fact that each of the four tribes stand to get a percentage of the sales.

"It's bizarre that a tribe would use the spiritual medicine man of their communities in a commercial way," says Jim Gray, publisher of the independent Native American Times in Oklahoma. "Tribes hold the medicine man in such high regard that it's unusual to see the image used for commercial purposes."

Others had stronger words.

"It's marketing at its worst," says Mike Miller, a spokesperson for the Cherokee nation.

"I'm outraged," says Barbara Durham, chairperson of the Timbisha Shoshone tribe in Death Valley.

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle

Comment:  The problem here isn't naming drinks after tribes. Hansen's is working with the tribes—getting authentic recipes, providing history on the labels, and giving a percent of the profits back—so we can't complain much about that.

The problem, as several Natives pointed out, is naming the tribal brews after medicine men. These people were practitioners of a sacred art, but the name equates them with Dr. Feelgoods who sold magical elixirs in traveling shows. Change the label from "Medicine Man" to something else and I bet few people would object.

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