‘Native American’ Lone Ranger Designer Isn't Actually Native AmericanS

There seems to have been a bit of a miscommunication about the new Lone Ranger fashion collaboration, which supposedly matched the talents of a "prestigious Native American craftsman" named Gabriel GoodBuffalo with the brand Will Leather Goods, all under the aegis of the Disney corporation. You see, GoodBuffalo is not actually Native American.

Colorlines looked into GoodBuffalo (who sometimes gives his name as Good Buffalo), the leather worker behind the collaboration, the announcement of which garnered some much-needed positive press for Disney just prior to the film's release — not that it seems to have mattered at the box office. GoodBuffalo's Lone Ranger belts retailed for $2,000, and lots of news sources reported on the apparent involvement of a Native American in one of the film's marketing ventures (including us). GoodBuffalo, who was referred to a "Native American chief" in the press materials for the collab (since edited), identifies himself as Native American on his Web site, and in a bio on one of the biggest online stores that offers offers his goods, GoodBuffalo was described as Lakota Sioux. (That bio has now been removed, but the same purported affiliation still appears in archives of, for example, the Santa Fe Indian Market.) He sells beaded belts that claim an affiliation with a specific Sioux clan, the Turtle clan. That clan doesn't exist, according to the Sioux experts Colorlines talked to:

In fact, Gabriel Good Buffalo is not even Native. Rather, he’s a striking example of how the burgeoning market for Native appropriation and branding operates. [...]

What might surprise most readers is that Good Buffalo is in apparent violation of federal law. Congress enacted the Indian Arts and Crafts Act in 1990, which allows for the prosecution of anyone who sells any good in a way that fraudulently suggests it was produced by a Native, when it was not. Just last week, a man who went by the name “Redhorse,” whose real name is Andrew Gene Alvarez, plead guilty to peddling jewelry that he knew was non-Native. Alvarez claimed to belong to different nations throughout his counterfeit career in Santa Fe, and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years probation, with the explicit agreement that he never again sell jewelry he makes as a Native product.

Not only is GoodBuffalo in violation of that law, so is Will Leather Goods and Disney, which touted GoodBuffalo's belts as the work of a Native American artisan. But the law is rarely enforced.

Adrienne Keene, a writer whose Native Appropriations site tackles the hijacking of Native culture by non-Natives, points out that what we’re seeing isn’t anything new—it’s just on a bigger scale, from corporate promotions to boutique accessories. “‘The Lone Ranger’ is a Disney blockbuster, with big names,” says Keene. “And that’s changing the way the products attached to it are marketed.”

For Keene, that’s a result of a consumer society, where people expect everything to be for sale—and ideally, at a low cost. Along with Dr. Jessica Metcalfe at Beyond Buckskin, Keene has advocated for buyers to be prepared to pay good money for an authentic Native craft. And that, says Keen, is part of what makes Good Buffalo’s marketing that much more insidious: well-meaning consumers will think they’re paying $2,000 for a Native artisan’s belt, when they’re instead spending thousands on being duped.

Given that GoodBuffalo lied about his background — he equivocated before admitting he was not Native American when asked directly — it's possible that Will Leather Goods, Disney, the Santa Fe Indian Market, and all the other small retailers that have sold GoodBuffalo's belts and bags as the work of a "Lakota Sioux" artist in the past were duped. Or perhaps they looked the other way. Either way, it's pretty shitty.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Marketing The Lone Ranger [Colorlines]