Gin takes it on the chin as Inuit complain of images used in sales pitch
'The more I've looked into stuff, the more disgusted I got,' says journalist Ossie Michelin
An Inuk journalist originally from North West River says a brand of gin is guilty of cultural appropriation, and even though the company offered up an apology, he says they have more work to do.
According to the label on the bottle, Ungava gin is made with 'indigenous Canadian herbs' and 'rare botanicals' from the Canadian north. The company says the brand is meant to celebrate the individuality of the Ungava Peninsula in Northern Quebec, just adjacent to Labrador, the area home to the botanicals used as some of the spirit's ingredients.
The company has also run ad campaigns featuring non-Inuit women dressed up in costumes, cartoons with igloos, and simulations of throat singing.
After hearing the CEO of the company dismissing claims of cultural appropriation in the media, freelance journalist Ossie Michelin took to Twitter.
"This is where he got me going. He said this complaint is a one-off, we've never heard anybody complain about our use of Inuit imagery," said Michelin, who now lives in Montreal.
"I said, nope, if other Inuit had seen this in this great land we live in, in this great country from coast to coast to coast, somebody else would've saw this and got upset."
Michelin began looking back over the company's past campaigns and didn't like what he saw.
In this one <a href="https://twitter.com/Ungava_Gin">@Ungava_Gin</a> thinks we're like Santa's elves, it's fun being mythical creatures and not real human beings <a href="https://t.co/yUziqj1aNH">pic.twitter.com/yUziqj1aNH</a>—@Osmich
"The more I looked into their ads and how they're using these really nasty images where I feel they're kind of mocking us in order to sell their product, that's when it really got to me," he told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.
"The more I found out about the ad campaign, the more I've looked into stuff, the more disgusted I got, and I'm not someone that's easily offended," Michelin said.
Michelin created the Twitter hashtag, #MakeUngavaInukAgain, to share his views on the company's marketing images.
How much booze is an Inuk worth? Ask <a href="https://twitter.com/Ungava_Gin">@ungava_Gin</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Inuit?src=hash">#Inuit</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Indigenous?src=hash">#Indigenous</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ungava_gin?src=hash">#ungava_gin</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ginungava?src=hash">#ginungava</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MakeUngavaInukAgain?src=hash">#MakeUngavaInukAgain</a> <a href="https://t.co/MYTljrlbeB">pic.twitter.com/MYTljrlbeB</a>—@Osmich
"It angers me because it's like saying you have no control over your own image, over your own history, over your own anything, we're going to pick and choose whatever we want to in order to sell our products or to benefit us," Michelin said.
Michelin isn't alone in his criticism. Others have also weighed in on social media, including throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
What does <a href="https://twitter.com/Ungava_Gin">@Ungava_Gin</a> do when there are no Inuit to model their ridiculous costumes? Hire Asian ladies. <a href="https://t.co/JKFDYRyphl">pic.twitter.com/JKFDYRyphl</a>—@tagaq
Apology 'a nice first step'
The company did apologize Wednesday afternoon in a written statement from its CEO Charles Crawford.
"We recognize that the campaign crossed an important line and has offended many people," Crawford wrote.
"We will be engaging key cultural influencers to gather explicit feedback on our use of Inuit symbology, and we are committed to being more culturally aware and sensitive in our advertising efforts going forward."
I feel they're kind of mocking us in order to sell their product.- Ossie Michelin
Crawford went on to state they will be reviewing all their content and removing any references to the campaign which they say ended in 2013.
"It was a nice first step, they apologized. I hope something more comes of this. I hope they put their money where their mouth is and they actually start developing real respectful relationships with Inuit as opposed to just trying to delete all the bad stuff they've done already," Michelin said
With files from Labrador Morning