Sexism charge receives promise of Pueblo advertising removal

SANTA FE, N.M – Noted legal scholar and Native American gender studies expert, Christine Zuni Cruz, has made her case against what she calls a striking case of sexism in the advertising of a Pueblo tribe’s casino. And she’s won.

On July 21, Zuni Cruz sent a fax to George Rivera, governor of the Pueblo of Pojoaque in northern New Mexico, in which she labeled a recent round of advertising for the tribe’s Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino as sexist and culturally inappropriate.

The advertising contained questionable images of what looked to be female tribal members, which Zuni Cruz, a member of the Isleta Pueblo, said “demean the self-esteem of Native women.”

In the ads – which appeared on the Web and on billboards – the women were depicted in stylized poses next to a Mercedes as part of a casino promotion. In one ad, the Mercedes emblem was part of the earring of one of the women.

Rivera objected to Zuni Cruz’ handling of the situation, saying in a letter to her that he wished she had shared her concerns with him or Buffalo Thunder management before she circulated her thoughts to members of the Indian legal community.

“Your reputation as a respected law professor is well-known,” Rivera wrote, referring to Zuni Cruz’ position at the University of New Mexico School of Law. “When you speak, you speak not as a private individual expressing your views, but as a public persona.”

Rivera said any suggestion that the Pueblo of Pojoaque is not concerned with women’s issues “is not based in fact.” He said three of four elected tribal officials are women and that women work throughout the tribe’s government and in its businesses.

Regarding Zuni Cruz’ problems with the advertising, Rivera said the intent of the ads “was to convey beauty, elegance and a chance to win a dream car.

“We are proud to use images of Native Americans, Native American women, Native American artists and Native American models.”

He could “not reach the conclusion that there was any ill intention by our marketing campaign, or that we intend to select ads that negatively depict Native American women.”

Still, Zuni Cruz’ criticism was enough to prompt Rivera to promise that the controversial Web site ads and billboards would be replaced.

He asked that Zuni Cruz visit Buffalo Thunder, and encourage others to do so.

Zuni Cruz has reacted favorably to the promise of removal. In a letter to supporters, she thanked all who contacted the casino and tribe expressing concern.

She planned to let Rivera know that she supported his decision to replace the ads, and that she hoped her supporters would show appreciation by choosing to visit the casino and resort.