Appropriation (?) of the Month: Alcohol and Indigenous Imagery

Appropriation in Alcohol Labels?

By George Nicholas

The use of Indigenous images, icons, and peoples in marketing alcoholic beverages is not new, and can be seen in products such as Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, Baby Blue Whiskey (made from Hopi Blue Corn), and even an "Otzi the Ice Man" beer. 

IPinCH team member Sven Ouzman, Curator of Archaeology at Cape Town’s Iziko South African Museum, points out that in South Africa, San imagery is often used on wine labels (below right).

The widespread use of this kind of imagery has caused controversy and legal dispute. In 2001, for example, Stroh’s Brewing Company, the makers of Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, settled a defamation suit with the descendants of Lakota leader Crazy Horse over the appropriation of the Crazy Horse name, with the company’s chairman John Stroh III making a public apology and making a peace offering in the form of a number of traditional gift items (e.g., tobacco, sweetgrass, blankets, horses). 

More recently, Calgary based Wild Rose Brewery released a new beer—“Hop Smashed In Belgian Style IPA”—which draws inspiration for its label (see top) from Head-­Smashed-­In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in southwest Alberta. Head-­Smashed-­In encompasses a site used by Indigenous peoples for over 5,000 years, where buffalo (bison) were hunted by chasing them over cliffs.


Figure 1. “Hop Smashed In” coaster advertising a beer produced by the Wild Rose Brewery in Alberta. Figure 2. Examples of wines with labels reproducing indigenous artifacts and rock art (photos courtesy George Nicholas, used with permission). 


Related Links

The Appropriation (?) of the Month feature, written by IPinCH team members, highlights examples of uses of intellectual property that might be considered appropriations.