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After outcry over Apache Bicycles, the Czech bike brand promises changes

Published August 31, 2018
Part of Apache Bicycles' 2018 Eurobike display.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BRAIN) — Apache Bicycles, a 17-year-old bike brand based in the Czech Republic, is planning some changes to its marketing, which outraged many on social media in recent weeks.

The company plans to eliminate some model names, including the Scalp e-bike model, and remove historic photos of Native American leaders from its marketing. It will no longer dress hostesses in costumes and war paint at trade shows, Lukáš Bárta, the CEO of BP Lumen, the parent company of Apache, told BRAIN in an email.

“We want to find (a) generally acceptable way to continue using the Apache brand in the future,” Barta said.

The brand was little known outside of its home country before it appeared at the Eurobike show in Germany last month, in a bid to expand its distribution to other parts of Europe.

After the Eurobike display received attention from BRAIN and others, Native artist Gregg Deal was among those on social media who criticized Apache’s use of Native designs and themes.

“I personally think that nobody except Native people should be using Native iconography,” Deal told BRAIN in an interview this week. 

"The coloring books, the paper headbands with the feathers … even the most ignorant person in America is like, ‘yeah that’s a little bit much.’” — Artist Gregg Deal

Much of Deal’s art uses humor and surprising associations to look at the role of Native images in popular culture, from the Washington Redskins to hipster headdresses. Apache Bicycles caught his attention because Deal is a longtime cyclist, starting as a mountain biker in Park City, Utah, where he grew up. Now he rides a ‘cross bike on gravel roads near his home outside Colorado Springs.

If Native imagery is used at all in marketing, it should be done with care and should benefit Native people and communities, he said.

“We are the lowest, poorest demographic in the United States … if people are benefiting from (Native images and themes) financially, that’s money that could help communities and individuals in Indian country that are trying to make a living … this is all Indian land and by extension of that, Native people should be one of the richest people in this country, but we are not — we are the poorest. And so taking something, even something that somebody might view as small and simple, is still taking and it’s taking from the poorest people in America, and that’s a gigantic load of crap,” he said.

Besides the lack of Native support, the Apache Bicycles display was offensive in other ways, Deal said.

“Most of the photos they used are old Ed Curtis photos, which are useful for documentary purposes. But a couple (of the people in the photos) are in ceremonial dress, which is really, really inappropriate to use in marketing and put on display. The people in those photographs — their great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren are still alive, they have living relatives and their images are being used for personal gain and marketing purposes. So you can talk about appropriation and whether or not these things are OK, but there’s also a moral, human element to it. Did you do your due diligence? Who is that person in the photograph? Did you get permission from the family to use that photograph? How much money are you making from this marketing campaign?

“Then there’s the low hanging fruit. You have European white girls dressed in costumes that in this country are marketed as 'Pocahottie' costumes. The coloring books, the paper headbands with the feathers … even the most ignorant person in America is like, ‘yeah that’s a little bit much.’”

Apache Bicycles’ Barta told BRAIN that no one has ever complained about the brand until this year. “To be honest, I did not expect such negative feedback because of using Apache name as a brand and Native Americans topic for our marketing. We are almost 20 years in the market, we have thousands of customers, business partners and fans here in Europe and we never heard anything bad about our brand. It means that it's nothing bad here in Europe,” he said.

He said the company has received dozens of complaints via email and social media since Eurobike.

“Some of them are very vulgar, some of them are serious,” he said. He said some messages are just complaints while others make an attempt to educate the company from afar. He said he is open to learning.

“We like Indians from our childhood because of famous movies based on books from Karel May. Indians are our heroes, many people live like them here in Europe. We celebrate them. It never occurred to us that it would hurt anyone,” he said.

He said the company is working on developing a statement it can share with people who email about issue.

“Now we understand how sensitive this topic is and that’s why we decided to make immediate steps, which should … decrease the impact of our marketing activities on Native Americans’ souls.”

Use and misuse of Native images remains pervasive in the U.S., in the mascots of sports teams, the names of SUV models, patterns and model names on outdoor gear and much more. But in recent years non-Natives in the U.S. have come to see some of it as inappropriate, and social media has given critics a platform they previously lacked to express disapproval — even of a brand sold thousands of miles away.

That’s why many at Eurobike this year were shocked by the Apache display.

Among those was Odia Wood-Krueger, co-owner of Terrene Tires and Esker Cycles. Wood-Krueger works for the Indian Education Department for the Minneapolis Public Schools and is a member of the Métis Nation.

“This is an interesting juxtaposition of my two worlds, colliding right now,” she told BRAIN.

Wood-Krueger said it’s common for bike industry and outdoor brands to use Native iconography without getting permission or working with Native artists, although she’s seen some improvement in recent years.

"I think it can be a challenge for brands to identify Native professionals; we aren't walking around in buckskin and feathers. Combine that with appropriation of patterns, symbols, and sacred objects, we tend to be cautious and somewhat mistrustful when people reach out. That’s why when I saw the Apache Bicycles display I thought, ‘wow, this is really amazingly terrible,’” she said. “They really have no sense at all of what they are doing.”

"I'm not Apache and it's not my place to speak for anyone from these nations. Perhaps Apache Bicycles should reach out to the individual nations for input. That said, I am honestly unsure if anything can be salvaged from this branding."

"It seems that Apache Bicycles created a mishmash of what they thought would make a cool, edgy brand — black and white images of chiefs, fake buckskin, war paint, paper headdresses, tepees — and completely missed the mark. And don't even get me started on the Scalp model. The sad reality is that Apache Bicycles still doesn't understand the real issue — as Native people, we're tired of having someone else tell our story the way they think it should be told."

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