Ethan Keller writes a letter on behalf of the grassroots organization Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry (EONM).
Dear Firehouse Subs CEO, Don Fox:
My name is Ethan Keller. I’m an author, artist, producer, and promoter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m also a father. My recently deceased father was also a priest, and I’m a Catholic parishioner. Over a year ago, I started becoming more active in civil rights, particularly, combating negative stereotypes in schools, media, sports, & entertainment.
I write to you on behalf of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry (EONM); a grass-roots organization that spontaneously spawned during Native American Heritage Month, November 2013. I’ve been honing these words for months.
A brief history of EONM:
Original EONM organizers agreed on a hashtag idea: #FCCcomplaintRSKIN. It manifested as an event on a Facebook page I administrate. That event was successful, yet something else overshadowed it – an audacious sign at a Sonic Drive-in outside Kansas City. CNN, The Guardian & many others picked up the story. EONM Association was essentially born at that point.
On Superbowl Sunday, EONM organized the #NotYourMascot campaign with support from the largest and oldest Native American organization in the US, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
EONM’s next tempest was #NotYourTonto trending on Twitter on Oscar night. We garnered more coverage with #NotYourTigerLily. All of these things, plus, most recently the overshadowing of EONM’s #Not4Sale campaign by #CancelColbert, & the recent Redface debacle on opening day in Cleveland; all of these and others have provided new visibility for Native American journalists.
Many Native & Non-Native news outlet have covered EONM campaigns: Indian Country, Native News Online, Native Max Magazine, Cherokee Phoenix, Navajo Times, Huff Post, Buzzfeed, Al Jazeera, ThinkProgress, PolicyMic, The Shriver Report, The Good Men Project, Slate, Wall Street Journal, International Business Times, USA Today, US News & World Report. Articles in Washington Post & Salon have most recently mentioned EONM.
EONM is turning voices & stories typically excluded to the fringe into the mainstream media. Because of the toiling of hundreds of Native families & their allies calling out disturbing images for years/decades, many media outlets are scrambling for Native American correspondents and contributors. EONM is their biggest & freshest resource.
We’re all unintended victims of incorrect information, so we daily act to clean up overgeneralized misconceptions about the diverse 566+ Native American nations within our nation. Expertise of each EONM member educates each other, and the world, about issues across countless realms. EONM is a myriad of compassionate & intelligent Native (and non-Native) artists, journalists, attorneys, doctors, scholars, teachers, students, adults and children from around the world. We’re almost 600 strong and growing every day.
EONM is gains extra support from official Tribal governments (NCAI) & educators (Wisconsin Indian Education Association), civil rights advocates (AAPI organization 18 Million Rising), as well as political movements (i.e. IdleNoMore, Occupy). We are constantly in contact with clergy, including major leaders in the Catholic Church, Episcopalian, & UCC churches, as well as the specific 61 churches condemning an epithet in their own city, our nation’s capitol city. We also have working relationships with hundreds of legislators, & politicians, coast to coast & in Washington, including a working relationship with contacts the Department of Justice & the Department of the Interior.
Flashback: A few months ago a respected Native American artist, Gregg Deal (recently featured in Washington Post), shared a photograph of a mural at Firehouse Subs in Woodbridge, VA on his Facebook wall. He wrote:
“The image depicts stereotypical American Indians in provocative poses, in pursuit of a Viking. The Viking, holding a football, informs the viewer of the analogy employed. These romanticized images of the American Indian are misused, perpetuating the myth of how we should be viewed, perceived and even treated, illustrates how far removed people are when it comes to the issue of mascots, particularly here in the Washington DC area. The subhuman nature of this image, made only by the fact that the Indian to fans of the football team, and in particular the artist who produced this piece, is mystical, and non-existent. A joke. If there was any sense of irony or satire here, this image might not be so exploitative. Yet here it hangs in a local eatery, one that stubbornly clings to team pride, allowing this image to stand here uncontested. The mis-educated moment of this image in and out of context is horrifying to me. Take a look at the literally millions of Indigenous people that have been hunted, killed, raped, dismembered, had their children taken from them, forced to assimilate and forced to leave behind their language, traditions, and identity all in the name of the Romantic Nationalism of America. Now ask yourself if this image, and any mascotry in the Western Hemisphere depicting Indigenous people is an honor. I see no honor here.”
An artist within EONM miraculously knew the muralist. I personally called and talked to the head of Firehouse Murals. I discovered he was a Catholic, like me. He seemed a good, hard-working man. However, despite a tearful plea, and struggle to maintain a compassionate tone, he did not perceive my phone call as being motivated by love and desire to remove a plank from the eye of a community. “Why would I care about 18,000 tweets?” he asked. “It’s an honor… I stand by my work.
When I reached out to both Firehouse PR & the muralist, offering them each an opportunity to be involved in any awesome solution, each passed the buck to the franchise owner. This person was supposedly on African safari relaxing with family. However, upset families here at home were brushed off and told to “wait for his return.” In the polite words of Jacqueline Keeler (renowned Native American journalist & EONM co-founder): “It is extremely disempowering to be told you must wait for someone to return from vacation until your concerns can be addressed.”
Frankly, I would have added the word “insulting” as well. Candidly, people representing the Firehouse brand had a chance to engage in a cooperative solution & utterly failed. Not to mention, squandering a piece of PR gold, trading it instead for a TON of PR “Kryptonite.”
This denigrating art has existed for over three years, and EONM’s dysfunctional discourse with Firehouse PR and the muralist was many months ago. People have waited, patiently, while disturbing facsimiles of stereotyped Native Americans hangs in place for the masses to gawk at. I trust most people can overwhelmingly agree we should have basic rights to eat food, enjoy family & community, while not simultaneously being forced to look at offensive images as we attempt to chew our meals. Furthermore, this goes far beyond merely, “eating somewhere else.” Firehouse Subs is using such disgusting disinformation to sell sandwiches themselves, thereby daily banking off harm it’s doing to people’s psyches.
I hope my own voice rings clearly. However, I’ll conclude by quoting one more Native American friend from EONM: “I live in the area. Please let me know where this restaurant is, so I know where NOT to take my children.”
Firehouse Subs still has a chance redeem itself, but it requires acknowledgment of the problem, an apology, and direct action to rectify the situation. Otherwise, Firehouse becomes another corporation people blacklist, because customers with scruples prefer to patronize companies employing moral standards in their business practices. Firehouse Subs is in danger of becoming just another Sonic Drive-In, Land O Lakes, or Nike to boycott. Sadly, sometimes only when company shareholders realize it is affecting their company’s branding or bottom line (i.e. lost revenue in Cleveland and Redsk*ns football games) that a corporation makes moves.
Please do not wait that long. Why delay another moment in the eradication of the unhealthy mascotry displayed on one wall of one sandwich shop in Virginia, and risk daily insulting multitudes and doing further damage to all Firehouse Subs franchises nationwide? For whatever reason, we at EONM all pray, each in our own ways, that you might take immediate action.
Mr. Fox, please accept my Easter blessings to you and your family,