The influence of Native American culture and myths on American culture in the form of symbols, names, etc., is ever-present in today's society although seemingly invisible or hidden in many instances. If one explores the historical context behind many "American" symbols, however, he or she will uncover the many ways that traditional Native American beliefs and cultural representations have influenced "American culture". Often times, what is represented today has been reappropriated through the years by European colonizers, entrepreneurs, etc., and is distinctly different from the original belief. In many cases what is represented has been misconstrued. The aim of this project is to explore the manner in which traditional Native American beliefs have been utilized and reappropriated by the dominant culture for advertising and consumer purposes. Furthermore, this project aims to explore why this reappropriation of traditional culture and beliefs occurs.
An excellent example of the manner in which Native American beliefs have been reappropriated and misconstrued is displayed in the "Maid of the Mist" legend. This is a story that historically stems from the people of the Six Nations, but is utilized now by multimillion dollar corporations for advertising purposes. The original version of the story, which in itself is subject to the cultural biases of the English language, focuses on a young woman who attempts to commit suicide by riding a canoe over the falls. Her reason for committing suicide stems from the fact that three times she has married and each time her spouse has died. Suspecting that the reason her spouses have died is her, she attempts to kill herself. However, before she plunges over the falls, she is saved by the Thunder beings, who then proceed heal her in a cave behind the falls. She then learns that the reason her spouses have died is because a snake like thing has been inhabiting her body. The Thunderbeings free her from the snake-like thing and tell her to go back to her people, which she does. Eventually, she is accepted into the community once more, meets a man, and raises a family.
Today this story is utilized by the Maid of the Mist Boat company, as can be viewed above, to promote their waterfall boat tour. However, since the company developed they have been using a misconstrued, false account of the Maid of the Mist story. This incorrect version claims that a Native American tribe sacrificed a maiden to the waterfalls in order to appease a wicked serpent god who had been plaguing their village with drought and death. Clearly, this version of the story, which has been widely circulated because of the advertising techniques of the Maid of the Mist boat company, manipulates the true version of the legend. Furthermore, the emphasis on human sacrifice and evil, cruel gods are completely foreign to the Six Nations.
The two ads above manifest the ways in which the Maid of the Mist story has been manipulated to serve the aims of the advertisers: in one case, to generate awareness about a pageant (which has little to do with the original story), in the other to advertise and make money for a boat tour that has misconstrued the actual legend. Each of the above pictures come from brochures in which there is no discussion of who the Maid of the Mist was and why the story is important. This absence of historical context makes it easy for the advertisers to manipulate the story for their own purposes -- even if these purposes have nothing to do with the actual Six Nation's account of the Maid of the Mist.