Ralph Lauren’s 2014 holiday ad campaign for its RRL line was raked over the coals on social media this week for its “assimilation aesthetic,” featuring what appear to be antique photos of stoic Native Americans dressed in Western attire.
Now, the company is apologizing for the imagery and has since removed the images from its website.
“Ralph Lauren has a longstanding history in celebrating the rich history, importance and beauty of our country’s Native American heritage,” the company said in a statement. “We recognize that some of the images depicted in the RRL look book may have caused offense and we have removed them from our website.”
Ruth Hopkins, a contributor to the site Last Real Indians, took issue with the campaign’s use of Native Americans, claiming that the imagery is not only ignorant, it’s a harsh reminder of a time of extreme oppression, and even genocide, for the nation’s indigenous people.
“What many people alive today fail to realize is Natives of the Assimilation Era wore western clothes because they were forced to do so,” she wrote.
The policy of cultural assimilation of Native Americans spanned roughly from the 1800s midway into the 20th century as a way to “Americanize” indigenous people through forced English education, sending children away to boarding schools and banning tribal religious traditions. Some policies were enforced through threat of violence.
Hopkins urged the public to email the designer about their objections and to take the brand to task using the social media hash tag #BoycottRalphLauren.
“It’s wrong for him to use the portraits of our ancestors for personal gain,” she told CNN in an email.
Hopkins told CNN she had not heard from the company at the time of publishing, but that she was thankful for the response from others who agree the use of the images is inappropriate.
Ralph Lauren has been one of the world’s most recognized names for American sportswear for nearly 50 years.
“He seeks to champion classic Americana. Fine. So be it. But, there’s one problem. We aren’t your token Indians,” Hopkins said.