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Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart is a member of the Tanka team.

'Manifest Destiny' Gap T-shirt causes uproar in Native community

By Jenice Johnson, manager of marketing and communications

Follow Jenice on Twitter @tankabar
Read Jenice's bio here

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Social media and news buzz across Indian Country, including our headquarters, was ablaze this week when it was reported that clothing retailer, The Gap, began selling the following T-shirt.

For the Indigenous community, the slogan is interchangeable with approving the destruction of their people.

"Manifest Destiny is a polite term for the popular 19th-century belief that the United States - a white, European nation - was destined to expand westward across the continent, by any means necessary," Indian Country Today Media Network reported yesterday, "In Indian country, the term Manifest Destiny calls to mind the suffering of previous generations of Natives through forced relocation and genocide."

Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart, a member of our Tanka team, was one of many who were offended by the slogan. She is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux as well as Jewish and will discuss the controversy tomorrow (Oct. 17, 2012) at 3 p.m. MT on KPFA 94.1 FM Berkeley: Listener Sponsored Free Speech Radio. The news about the shirt, which had been on sale for nearly a month, didn't go viral until a UCLA student started a petition to end sales of the shirt as well as demanded a formal apology.

"If you are a minority, these words on a black shirt with white writing triggers something," Mrs. Tilsen-Brave Heart said. "It stands for one of the most horrific policies in our history -- rid this land of our people. Wounded Knee is one of the main things that happened through that policy."

The issue is particularly sensitive for Mrs. Tilsen-Brave Heart because she has been a Gap employee for over 10 years as well as CEO of Painted Skye Consulting -- a Native-women owned firm that provides sensitivity training across Indian Country. She said that The Gap is one of a few retail companies that promote multiculturalism, diversity and community outreach and the news disappointed her.

"I have been a faithful and loyal employee since I was 16. It was my first real paying job other then working for my pops," Mrs. Tilsen-Brave Heart wrote on The Gap's Facebook fan page, "To see this Threadless Tee about one of the most horrible tactics in American History to my people breaks my heart. Please don't just become another racist hipster company that doesn't care of who they insult or disrespect."

The shirt was created by Mark McNairy, who is not a Gap employee, and was part of a partnership brand called "GQ x Gap." Social media followers felt it was adding insult to injury when the designer tweeted: "MANIFEST DESTINY: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST." The outcry resulted in The Gap pulling the shirt but Mr. McNairy's apology has been reported as not sufficient.

"The twitter apology was not enough. Not enough for me. We need a formal apology and acknowledgement of the company's mistake," Mrs. Tilsen-Brave Heart said. "I think that all businesses - not just major corporations -- especially when creating a clothing line, need to do their research about other people's culture and history."

To reach Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart, join her Facebook fan page: Painted Skye Consulting.

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