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Trimble: Custer, the plastic icon

I sometimes think there is a massive conspiracy to wear Indians down and drive us to despair, insanity and death. Every time we find ourselves happy about something – the largesse of Obama’s Indian budget, our kid’s birthday, or a good day at the casino, someone out there in the great white conspiratorial world does something to offend us. This turns on our sensitivity sentinels and they set in motion an alarm to remind us that we are targets in an ongoing state of siege. This depresses us and keeps us in a perpetual state of stressful rage and self-pity, thus shortening our lives, as their conspiracy is planned to do.

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mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} I would find it difficult to boycott McDonald’s over the Custer incident. It seems like an innocent, thoughtless mistake.

Recently the conspiracy struck again. This time it was McDonald’s fast food chain, which started giving away a plastic figurine of George Custer – yes that George Custer – in every Happy Meal. Custer is depicted as riding a Harley-Davidson Hog, no less. If you are creatively paranoid you can imagine that he’s on his way to Sturgis to disturb the serenity of our sacred Bear Butte. At any rate, it seems Lakota country is up in arms again, and distracted from dealing with the problems of poverty and social pathology that beset the reservation. One Indian columnist reports that most Lakotas, Cheyennes and Arapahos are enraged over this insult and he responds with a blistering counter attack on the Big Mac army.

Being somewhat diet-conscious I’m not a great McDonald’s fan, although I do like to pig out on their french fries on rare occasions. And as far as I’m concerned, their coffee is better and cheaper than Starbucks. Otherwise I seldom go there, and thus I have been denied the indignity and trauma of seeing the historic villain Custer being commemorated. I did not get my chance to vent my outrage and expound to the smiling little obesity candidates standing in line for their Happy Meals about what a dastardly poltroon that plastic long-haired, blond general riding the tiny Hog represents. Worse yet, I didn’t get one of those little plastic icons, which are reportedly being taken off the market and will thus become valuable collectibles because of the controversial status and rarity we’ve given them. Damn!

Anyway, I would find it difficult to boycott McDonald’s over the Custer incident. It seems like an innocent, thoughtless mistake.

All corporate advertising departments have some person that will come up with an idiotic idea that will offend someone or some group; and this is apparently what happened with McDonald’s.

Here in Nebraska not long ago, McDonald’s gave out place mats with the story of the Trial of Standing Bear, that heroic Ponca chief who fought his way back to his Nebraska homeland after enduring the tribe’s forced march to Oklahoma only months before. His trial here, brought by helpful attorneys and a newspaper publisher, and even with the passive help of General George Crook, marked the federal court’s decision that an Indian is a “person” for the purpose of Habeas Corpus. The argument that an Indian was not a “person” under the law was used by the Army to deny Standing Bear’s citizen rights of a trial, and to force his people on a second trail of tears back to Oklahoma. That court decision allowed the chief to stay in his homelands, and it set a precedent for all Indian people. The place mat story, given away with all meals by McDonald’s, was beautifully illustrated and proved popular with kids and parents.

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So I tend to think that McDonald’s is not a bastion of racism and part of the vast conspiracy that I facetiously describe above. All corporate advertising departments have some person that will come up with an idiotic idea that will offend someone or some group; and this is apparently what happened with McDonald’s.

Besides, outside of certain groups of tottering old historians who have good memories of the general and bad ones of Indians, and who re-enact their own brand of twisted history, Custer doesn’t stand high in public esteem. I think most people remember Custer only for the royal butt-kicking he took at Little Bighorn in 1876, and he is the butt of jokes as much as he is a hero in history or legend.

Time and again he proved himself an arrogant and egotistical clown. But not many people know of other ridiculous things he did besides sending his troops against a superior force of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho, against the advice of his own Indian scouts. For example, he decided to put on a show for his adoring wife Libby on how to kill a buffalo. He found a herd and charged ahead full speed, singling out one old bull to chase down and kill. Closing in on it, he drew his pistol, took aim, and shot his own horse right out from under him – at full speed. Dusting himself off and staggering back to his horse, he finished it off with a single shot, and limped back to his still-adoring wife, who presumably picked cactus and sand burs out of his fancy buckskins for many weeks.

I don’t think we ought to waste time or righteous rage over this thing and other things like it.

He might have done better on a Harley, but I doubt it. McDonald’s Custer toy was supposed to promote the movie “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.” I didn’t see the movie, but from the title I gather it is a comedy. If that is so, I would imagine that Custer is made to look rather foolish in his role. In such case, perhaps we ought to ignore the perceived insult, and encourage more people to take their children to see the movie and let them get their laughs at the idiot on the Hog.

At any rate, I don’t think we ought to waste time or righteous rage over this thing and other things like it. In the minds of many people (including our own), we Lakotas are getting to look more and more like whiners instead of the strong people who have endured five centuries of onslaught to destroy our cultures and our people, and still stand tall for our sovereignty and our rights.

Charles Trimble, Oglala Lakota, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association, and served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972 – 1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, Neb. He can be reached at cchuktrim@aol.com. His Web site is iktomisweb.com.