Back in June, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream announced it would be changing the culturally appropriated product name “Eskimo Pies” to… something different. After four months, the company has announced a new name for its chocolate-covered ice cream bars. They’re going with “Edy’s Pies” — an honorific to the company’s founder, Joseph Edy. The brand will also stop using the caricature of a young Indigenous child wearing seal fur on its packaging.
This rebranding comes in the wake of massive social upheaval across the U.S. as we grapple with the echoes of chattel slavery, Manifest Destiny, and American colonization. Brands like Uncle Ben’s (now Ben’s Original), Aunt Jemima (rebranding), Cream of Wheat (dropping logo), Mrs. Butterworth (rebranding), Plantation Rum (rebranding), and even the Washington Football Team (rebranding… FINALLY) have taken note of our changing world. And while these responses are easily mocked as superfluous, it’s not completely insignificant to see corporations absorb costs in order to be more culturally sensitive.
Even if that sensitivity is ultimately aimed at selling more ice cream bars. Or syrup.
Dreyer’s — which is owned by international ice cream giant Froneri out of the U.K. — said in their announcement (via The New York Times): “We are committed to being a part of the solution on racial equality, and recognize the term is inappropriate.” While “Eskimo” being classified as a pejorative still seems to be up for debate in the lower 48, the word has been resoundingly dismissed as racially-charged in Canada and across the rest of the Arctic, though it is still used in some parts of Alaska.
So what’s wrong with “Eskimo?”
Not a ton, in theory. The term was used by colonizers to group together all the Indigenous people living the Arctic between Siberia, what is now Alaska and Canada, and Greenland. Of course, those peoples had individual names for their cultures and communities — they are the Inuit, Yupik, Aleut, and Greenlanders or Kalaallit people — but the colonizers were nothing if not efficient in their grouping of massive swaths of humans. Many cultures do that and it’s not always mean spirited. In fact, the term “Eskimo” was likely an outsider word for “people who lived up north,” to begin with. The term is often attributed to the Algonquian-speaking Innu-aimun people (of what’s now Eastern Canada) and translated roughly to “one who laces snowshoes.”
But over the decades, the word grew to be a pejorative for Inuits, Alaska Natives, Siberians, and Greenlanders through usage. Colonizers incorrectly believed “Eskimo” to mean “raw meat eater” or “eater of worms” and historically linked the word with other crude connotations of “savages.” In the present day, at the very best, the term is used to erase identity between a massive swath of varying cultures around the Arctic Ocean across two continents. While at the worst, it carries on the stigmas — created through colonization — of Artic Indigenous people as subhuman.
That may not be enough to prove to you that the word is racially charged, but it’s certainly enough to prove that it doesn’t have to be on an ice cream box. There are better ways to sell candy-coated frozen sugar bricks.
All in all, this feels like a win. And it casts into sharp relief the brands still using offensive or loaded imagery. In fact, here are a few companies that should ponder rebranding ASAP:
- American Spirit — International tobacco company — owned by British American Tobacco — that still uses a stereotypical “Indian in a headdress” logo. It has no affiliation with any Indigenous nation.
- Red Man Chewing Tobacco — Besides the “Red Man” name, this partially Swedish-owned brand still uses a stereotypical “Indian in a headdress” logo. It has no affiliation with any Indigenous nation.
- Indian Motorcycles — Still uses names like “Chief” and “Scout” for their bikes and use a stereotypical “Indian in a headdress” as a logo. The company has no affiliation with any Indigenous nation.
- Miss Chiquita — The original a “sexy” lady banana cartoon was changed to a “Latin” woman in 1987. Chiquita’s history is also rooted in the United Fruit Company which started wars, committed massacres, and overthrew democratically elected governments throughout the Americas so that people in the U.S. could have access to slightly cheaper bananas and pineapples.
- Calumet Baking Powder — Named after a ceremonial Indigenous tobacco pipe and branded with a stereotypical “Indian in a headdress” logo. It has no affiliation with any Indigenous nation.
- Apache Gin — A Belgian owned and operated gin brand that was “influenced” by a trip to Apache Country. It has no affiliation with any Indigenous nation.
Then, of course, there are car brands (Jeep Cherokee, Winnabego), clothing brands (Cherokee, Quechua), and professional sports teams and their damaging mascots and fan “traditions” (Chicago Blackhawks, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers). This is simply to say, there’s still a lot of work to do when it comes to undoing racist caricatures and mascot pageantry in our culture.
Is a massive international brand ditching a harmful logo, name, or mascot going to fix the world? Of course not. But at least it’s a start — and reflects the fact that a mostly white and colonial power structure is finally listening to BIPOC voices and concerns on this matter. It’s a step in the right direction. A step towards ending fake or stereotypical imaginary of marginalized cultures — something that we know does harm to the mental health of Indigenous folks.
Perhaps steps like the ones taken by Edy’s Pies, Ben’s Original, and the Washington Football Team will help pave the way towards more equity. Maybe it’s the gateway that will lead towards shedding more light on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit or police killings of Indigenous men or the massive poverty of a majority of Indian Country still lives in. Maybe we’ll get a mainstream Indigenous TV show on the air. Anything is possible!
The thrill of this era of social upheaval is that even gestures like corporate rebranding feel like they’re part of a bigger movement. A movement that might really enact larger change this time. Change that directly impacts communities whose heritage was very nearly obliterated.
One can certainly hope.