Stripmining history and culture for dollars

  • Parody ad of Crazy Horse Malt Liquor by Thom Little Moon, Rapid City, S.D.

 

Who owns Crazy Horse? Were the great Oglala warrior still alive, there would be no question: Crazy Horse, who helped Sitting Bull orchestrate Custer's last stand, was not the owning kind. But 120 years after his death, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed a New York brewery's right to market "Original Crazy Horse Malt Liquor," despite widespread objection by Indians, non-Indians and the historic leader's heirs.

The court upheld the beer maker's claim to commercial free speech and declared a state law banning the name "impermissibly content-based." The court's ruling leaves Crazy Horse - who opposed the use of alcohol by his people - on the label of a beer bottle.

If this is legal, something is wrong with legal. Heroes are not mascots. No commercial enterprise, however free its speech, should have the right to exploit someone else's culture for profit - not without permission, and certainly not when representatives of the culture itself object. But our laws are designed to protect profits, not prophets. If you want respect, don't become a legend; just register your trademark.

If I make a snack food I can't name it Doritos. If I make a shoe I can't name it Nike, and if I start a grocery store I can't call it Safeway. I can't even, to cite a recent case, start a little saloon in the forsaken Yaak Valley of western Montana and call it the Golden Nugget - not if I don't want to be sued 38 years later by a Las Vegas casino.

But like Hornell Brewery I can make a malt liquor, call it after someone's great-grandfather, and not give a narrow dime for the privilege. I can sell a substance that has ravaged the red community (not to mention the white) for well over a century and label it unapologetically with the name of one who sought to save his people from that very fate.

With a little twist on this logic, we could have the O.J. Simpson Battered Women's Shelter, the Jeffrey Dahmer Home for Runaway Boys, or the Joe Camel Cancer Ward.

The ironies keep coming. Even as Hornell Brewery continues to make a buck off Crazy Horse, the federal government has announced cuts in anti-alcoholism programs for American Indian and Alaska Native communities. To fill the void, the National Association for Native American Children of Alcoholics has appealed for support from other agencies, private foundations and from individual donors. Perhaps Hornell will be eager to contribute.

The ultimate irony is in the clash of values embodied by this case. Crazy Horse fought for freedom, for a way of life grounded in certain social, spiritual and environmental values. He and his way of life were summarily extinguished, deemed commercially nonviable by the very culture which today - ironically - suffers from an excess of commercial value and a lack of social, spiritual and environmental values.

It is little comfort to remember that those who live by the sword die by the sword, and that we who live by commercialism will likely die by it as well. Our towering garbage dumps, our neglected families faze us no more than the morning headache fazes the alcoholic. Like the boozer, we can't imagine how good it would feel to stop.

Where is our Crazy Horse? Where are the leaders to warn us against temptation, to show us the better path? Crazy Horse died 120 years ago on the point of a soldier's bayonet and though his name may belong on the back of a dollar, you'll find it on the front of a beer bottle.

Here's to Crazy Horse, who never really surrendered.

'Asta Bowen is a high school teacher and writer in Somers, Montana.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...