W + K Defies Expectations of American Indians

If the word “Indian” still evokes hackneyed images of feather headdresses and tepees, it’s a perception Wieden + Kennedy is eager to change.

The Portland, Ore., agency has launched a pro bono campaign for the American Indian College Fund that poses the question: “Have you ever seen a real Indian?”

Five color print executions feature various American Indian students and professionals who defy age-old stereotypes.

Included in the work are Rick West, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord, surgeon and associate dean at the Dartmouth Medical School, and Dean Bear Claw, director/screenwriter.

The images were shot by independent photographer Chris Buck.

The campaign wants to update the Fund’s image, said Suzette Brewer, a representative for the Denver-based client. “We’ve done the same ads for 10 years,” said Brewer, which shows stereotypes such as an Indian leading a horse through the water.

The account is the last piece of business agency co-founder David Kennedy handles. Despite retiring in 1994, Kennedy, who grew up in Oklahoma with American Indian children, said his involvement stems from “the opportunity to be involved in something I really believe in.” Kennedy, who served as co-creative director on the account with Dan Wieden, also sits on the board of trustees for the Fund.

Now in its 11th year with the agency, the Fund wants to “show American Indians in a modern context,” said Brewer.

Copywriter Dylan Lee said, “We tried to do something more shocking. You don’t expect an Indian to be a surgeon, if you go by the movies or television.”

The campaign debuts the tagline, “Invest in our strength.” Ads are expected to appear in April business and lifestyle publications.