Crafting retailer Michaels pulls Wild West toy from shelves after Winnipeg woman calls it 'offensive'

A Winnipeg mom is happy a Canadian craft store has taken a toy that depicts cowboys and Indigenous people, off of store shelves on Monday, but said it should have happened much sooner.

Erin Vandale says figurines of cowboys and Indigenous people inappropriate for kids

The toy, called Wild West TOOB, is made by Safari Ltd and are marketed as collectibles and educational tools meant for displays and school projects. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A Winnipeg mom is satisfied that a Canadian craft store has taken a toy depicting cowboys and Indigenous people off of store shelves, but says it should have happened much sooner.

"If they would've taken my first email and taken that toy off the shelves I would have ended it right there," said Erin Vandale.

Vandale said she was upset after finding a package of figurines called Wild West TOOB at a Michaels store in Winnipeg while shopping with her son in October.

According to the manufacturer's website, the toy contains 11 figurines depicting the American frontier era and includes an "Indian Chief" and an "Indian Brave" as well as a "cowboy," a "covered wagon," and a "cowboy on a horse."

The Wild West TOOB contains 11 figurines depicting cowboys and Native American 'Indians.' (Safari Ltd website)
"It's offensive because of Canada's history," said Vandale, who is an instructor for early educators and a mother of four.

"Indigenous peoples in Canada have been discriminated against and colonized for centuries, and this toy is just sort of reinforcing that idea," she said.

Vandale's husband and children are Metis, and she said the term "Indian" upset her, but it was the combination of the Indigenous people and cowboys and how they were portrayed that offended her.

"I realize that in America they use different terminology, but in Canada we really don't use that word, and for sure we would never use that word in our home," she said.

She said the scene and time period the characters were meant to represent is a sensitive subject not fit for a toy.

"The cowboys and the Indigenous peoples together, with a gun and a bow and arrow," said Vandale. "I just thought, what is the kind of play that a child who gets this toy going to do?" she said.

"It's turning [colonization] into play and it's really not a game, it's something that is very serious," she said.

Tried to post a public review

A short time after seeing the toy, Vandale complained to the store in an email and received a response that her concerns would be passed along to the appropriate department.

A couple of weeks later, Vandale noticed the product was still available on the company's website so she attempted to write a review.
Erin Vandale is a mother of 4, and an instructor for early childhood educators. She says the figures are not suitable as toys and depict a subject matter that shouldn't be dealt with in a game. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"I take issue with the kind of play this toy will promote. The relationships between settlers and First Nations peoples were fraught with tension and horrible actions. I would really like to see this toy taken off the shelves," Vandale wrote in the review.

Vandale said she got a notification shortly after that her review could not be posted, along with the following emailed response from the company:

'We appreciate you taking the time to write a review. Unfortunately your review did not meet our guidelines for posting on our site.'

"Then I was mad," said Vandale.

"If somebody is allowed to say that [the product] is great, then I should be allowed to say that it's not great," she said.

Toy removed from stores

Michaels told CBC the toy would be removed from Canadian stores on Monday.

In a statement to CBC, Michaels said the figurines are not intended to be disrespectful and are often used for educational reasons in school projects, like historical dioramas.

"This item will be removed from our stores in Canada. We appreciate all of the feedback we receive from our customers and we are committed to treating all of our customers with dignity and respect," said Michaels in an emailed statement.

The company said it is investigating why Vandale's review was rejected.

Vandale said some people on social media have dismissed her concerns and told her she was over-reacting to a small issue. Vandale disagrees and said it's important to not let the small things slide.

"There's lots of little things, they accumulate into big things, and they pave the way for the big things."