WINNIPEG — Michaels, the big arts and crafts supply store, is removing a toy depicting cowboys and Indigenous people from its shelves after a Winnipeg mother complained they were offensive.
Erin Vandale, an early childhood educator and mother of four, went to a Michaels outlet in Winnipeg about two weeks ago to look for figurines for her child’s school project.
She stumbled across a toy called “Wild West,” a 12-piece set of miniature figurines depicting cowboys, pioneers and what the box labelled as ‘American Indians’ from the 1880s that included a cowboy with a gun and an Indigenous man with a bow and arrow.
Despite a complaint from Vandale, the toy was still available on the store’s website a week later, but her attempt to post a negative review was met with a quick notice from Michaels telling her it did not meet their guidelines.
The chain was approached by CTV News on Monday morning and by late afternoon, a company representative told the media outlet that the toy would be removed from store shelves across Canada.
Michaels says in a statement that it values all cultures and the product was not intended to be disrespectful.
“We’re taking colonial actions, things that actually happened in Canada that were horrible, and we’re giving them to children to reproduce them as a play,” said Vandale, who is non-Indigenous and whose husband and children are Metis.
“I don’t want to see my children’s culture or my husband’s culture represented in that way in a store like Michaels.”
Vandale’s review read, “I take issue with the kind of play this toy will promote. The relationships between settlers and First Nations peoples were fraught with tension and horrible actions. I would really like to see this toy taken off the shelves.”
Vandale said she wasn’t trying to be “inflammatory.”
“I was just coming from a really honest place and I think I should be able to write that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” she said.
Michaels said in its statement to CTV that “While the figurines referenced are often used for school projects, including historical dioramas, exploring the plains of the American west, this item will be removed from our stores in Canada. We appreciate all of the feedback we receive from our customers and we are committed to treating all of our customers with dignity and respect.”
Jacqueline Romanow, who chairs Indigenous studies at the University of Winnipeg, said society somehow absorbs the caricature of Indigenous people as normal and acceptable.
“You don’t see toys or games set up that are reconstructing the era of plantation owner and slave. We wouldn’t have to have a discussion about why that’s absolutely offensive,” she said. (CTV Winnipeg)
The Canadian Press