Gli Indiani d'America sono Uomini, Non Hamburger!

The legend of the Wild West in contemporary Europe as portrayed by Hollywood has determined the many ways most Europeans embrace the mythology of the American Frontier—to enhance, imbue, or create dime-novel notions of the Old West without realizing their conceptions perpetuate the subjugation of Indigenous people.

In Europe, the American Wild West is a lifestyle once only found in books and movies. Today, however, that experience has gone far beyond movie screens and ten-cent weekly fiction, and is now being recreated in European eateries offering a taste of Wild West culture where the cowboys shoot the Indians.

The General Food Company Cigierre S.p.A., which owns the franchise Old Wild West, with over seventy restaurant locations in Italy, is just the latest example of commodification of America’s golden past to craving Western adventurers. It is a tale of conquest, but also one of survival and persistence that expanded the United States from coast to coast, fulfilling the dreams of Manifest Destiny—which included the near genocide of Indian people and the deliberate appropriation of sovereign lands—has an American Indian activist group outraged at S.p.A. for serving hamburgers, grilled meats, nachos and burritos named after American Indian leaders, and the cannibals that eat them. Is it not more interesting to the Euro-centric mindset to consider why Native Americans refer to themselves as HUMANS more so than any other culture on Earth?

Meals are served-up in an atmosphere looking like the movie set of Italian film director, producer, and screenwriter, Sergio Leone, who made popular the “Spaghetti Western” genre. The group asserts, “American Indians are Human Beings, Not Burgers!” These words would become the slogan for the group’s petition.

The Italian Blog “Nativi,” has been working for 5 years now, in order to support and spread true, honest, respectful information about Native American People history, culture, daily life, modern issues and struggles, have launched a campaign against Old Wild West to acquaint Cigierre S.p.A. and the dining public, with the offensive nature of the names of menu items such as “Sitting Bull,” “Geronimo,” “Red Cloud,” “Crazy Horse,” “Squaw Steak,” “Sioux Beef,” “Hamburger Comanche,” and “Cheyenne chicken.” The menu also includes the names of tribal groups like Cherokee, Apache, Navajo, and others as far back as the ancient Pueblo Ancestors.

But here’s the interesting twist, the group’s organizers Alessandro Profeti and Bianca Frassi, in charge of the Blog “Nativi, along with ten cultural associates, who go by the name “Il Cerchio,” are Italian. They explain, “They’re exploiting Indian leaders who gave their lives for their people; and others whose lives were taken with immense violence, in their fight to defend freedom and the possibility of survival of their people.” Profeti and Frassi also assert, “It’s a derogatory misrepresentation towards American Indians.” Both Profeti and Frassi have taken up this cause because they recognize the obligation to history as well as morality; these two in fact can never be incompatible. “We may not be American Indian, but we are in heart,” says the organizers. Others have also joined the cause, and the group’s organizers feel they are confident likeminded people will support them.

One group in particular, Hunkapi, founded in 1996, with approximately fifty members and growing, is equally active with the dissemination of cultural traditions of Native America in Europe. This year the group will host their 11th annual event, “Festa della Madre Terra,” or “Mother Earth Day,” July 7th -8th 2012, at Casa Romano, Genova. The event will feature Storyteller, Gilbert Douville (Sicangu Lakota), dancer Claudia Haddad (Mi’kmaq), singer and drummer Bo Koinva (Hopi), dancers Savannah Robinson and Carlton Yazzie (Navajo) and others. There’s even an Indian village.
In March, the Blog "Nativi" sent an email to S.p.A. explaining, “The use of Native American names on their menu is not only wrong but also offensive. It shows a total lack of respect for American Indians and their ancestors.” The Campaign, sent over 450 letters to Cigierre S.p.A, signed by Italians and by Native Americans. The General Food Company Cigierre S.p.A has not responded. The organizers have now reached out to the American based organization the Native American Rights Fund (N.A.R.F.), who suggested Morning Star institute for assistance. After beginning the campaign against Native Americans in 1492, it’s interesting that Italians are now coming to the aid of Indians.

A sampling of Old Wild West’s menu can be found here. You can also view the campaign on YouTube.

Julianne Jennings, E. Pequot-Nottoway, is a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University.