The Land O’Lakes Native American maiden, a silent spokeswoman for the Minnesota-based cooperative since the late 1920s, has disappeared from butter, cheese and other product packaging.
In February, the farmer-owned cooperative, founded in 1921, quietly unveiled new packaging ahead of its 100th anniversary. The new design features a facsimile of the serene lakes-and-woods landscape it has long used, minus the illustrated woman.
In some packaging, the figure known as Mia will be replaced by photos of Land O’Lakes member farmers. The words “Farmer-Owned” have been given prominent placement.
“As Land O’Lakes looks toward our 100th anniversary, we’ve recognized we need packaging that reflects the foundation and heart of our company culture — and nothing does that better than our farmer-owners whose milk is used to produce Land O’Lakes’ dairy products,” said Beth Ford, president and CEO, in a statement. “As a farmer-owned co-op, we strongly feel the need to better connect the men and women who grow our food with those who consume it.”
There was no mention of the demise of Mia, and nearly every trace of her has been erased from the Land O’Lakes website.
She was originally the work of illustrator Arthur C. Hanson, and like another local fictional brand icon — Betty Crocker of General Mills — her appearance was modified over the years.
Ojibwe artist Patrick DesJarlait remade Mia in the mid-1950s. DesJarlait also created the popular Hamm’s Beer bear, and his work is represented in the collection of the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” said Robert DesJarlait, Patrick’s son and an artist and writer, from his home in Onamia, Minn. “I’m sad to see it go, but I can understand why it’s gone. We live in a politically correct time, so maybe it was time to get rid of it. It certainly devolved into a stereotype.
“But in our family, my dad’s work is a source of pride for us. He broke barriers as an Ojibwe artist from Red Lake. Back then, you didn’t find native people in those kinds of jobs, and this gave him the opportunity to put his spin on a well-known native image.”
Much like the use of Native American names and imagery in sports and other popular culture arenas — the Washington Redskins come to mind — the Land O’Lakes maiden has generated controversy for years.
In 2006, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe artist David P. Bradley created “Land O Bucks, Land O Fakes, Land O Lakes,” a sculptural representation of the Land O’Lakes butter box. It is part of the permanent collection of the Denver Art Museum.
The museum notes that Bradley “reformulates pop imagry such as this Land O’Lakes butter box — found in American grocery stores — to combat cultural myths and the treatment of Native Americans.”
“For five hundred years, American Indians have had everything taken from them,” Bradley told the museum. “One of the last valuable things they own is their identity. Now that Indian identity has become a marketable commodity, it is being taken, as well.”
Land O’Lakes, which is headquartered in Arden Hills, posted $14 billion in sales in 2019.