Even in Washington, D.C.

Because I am a firm believer that Sleepy Eye is a wonderful, unique, and famous town, I was not at all surprised to find this Sleepy Eye Mill barrel label in the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian on my recent visit to Washington, D.C. In fact, I went into the room where this is displayed, fully expecting to see it there.

(There is a connection to Sleepy Eye everywhere. Right?)

My daughters and I spent much of our time in Washington in Smithsonian Museums. We were very compatible in our interests. The Museum of the American Indian was the first one we visited — it was just a block from our hotel and we had only a couple hours before closing time. It was the number one museum on my list.

One of the first rooms we came upon in the museum, was titled Americans. It was a huge display of how images of American Indians have been used in advertising and product art in our country, over the years. The descriptor for the exhibit is: “American Indian images, names, and stories infuse American history and contemporary life.”

The reality that some of the images have been demeaning, while others are powerful, was also a part of the story told in the exhibit.

Anyway, not to get too “museumy,” I wandered through this particular room, wondering when I would see Old Sleepy Eye displayed. I just knew he had to be there.

And sure enough, there he was—top and center, large and in charge, on one wall—Old Sleepy Eye, the advertising image of the Sleepy Eye Milling Company.

I was surprised, and not surprised. We solicited a stranger to take a picture of us standing beneath “our” image of the American Indian.

Old Sleepy Eye was not fashioned after our historical Chief Sleepy Eye. I seem to remember some history of that being deliberate. But, of course, he does represent our town’s to the area’s first residents. And, I am sure the minds behind making Old Sleepy Eye a trademark for a big business in Sleepy Eye, knew they were trading on the mysterious and romantic image of the American Indian — used to promote their product and make it stand out from the competition.

Our question can be, do we use our beloved Chief Sleepy Eye imagery in a respectful and honorable way?