Women dressed in faux Native American attire at the gaming developers conference in San Francisco stand outside a tipi as part of their marketing campaign

Tipi, Models in Skimpy Faux Native Garb at California Gaming Conference

Simon Moya-Smith

An American-born businessman who owns and operates an advertising company in Germany has responded to complaints of cultural appropriation by stating he has Native American friends and that his company incorporates Native American values in its philosophy.

Gary Lin, CEO of Glispa (GmbH), a company geared to generate web traffic through marketing campaigns, allegedly erected a tipi and hired several women to dress in faux Native American garb at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, on March 19.

Elizabeth LaPensée, an Anishinaabe and Métis game developer and designer, said friends had told her a tipi would be on the expo floor. When she arrived to the conference she noticed that Glispa staff were using the tipi as a meeting room. “And two women, both of whom were non-Native, were wearing your typical inappropriate stereotypical [Indian] costume – mocking regalia,” she said.

According to LaPensée, people who had arrived to the conference before she did told her that the models were wearing less attire earlier in the day, but had since put on more clothing.

LaPensée asked the models to pose and snapped a photo. She immediately posted the image of the tipi and the models to her Facebook wall. Her friend, Melissa Bennett, a Umatilla, Nez Perce, Diné and Lakota writer, emailed the company, opposing the appropriation, and received a direct response from Lin.

In his defiant email, which can be read at length on Bennett’s website, Lin, who wrote that he is Chinese-American, declared he understands “the sensitivities around race and culture fully” and that since he founded the company more than a decade ago, Bennett’s complaint is the first he has received concerning his co-opting of Native American cultures.

Lin goes on to declare that he has a bevy of Native American friends, seeing that he was born in the Midwest. 


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Hidden Wolf's picture
Hidden Wolf
Submitted by Hidden Wolf on
I must say that the use of native practices in a Euro based country is indeed an insult with the typical blonde European model is indeed an insult. Is there any way to curb this misuse of our heritage.for commercial exploitation on the Euro continent? Perhaps a visit to the patent office will curb the creation of fake Native products in the future.

indianmedicine's picture
Submitted by indianmedicine on
Don't you see, "it's not personal - it's business" - like it or not.

JLeonhardy's picture
Submitted by JLeonhardy on
Just a little email I sent to the company's contact email. Feel free to do the same! From: Jay Leonhardy Sent: Monday, March 24, 2014 3:17 PM To: 'contact@glispamedia.com' Subject: RACISM Your co-opting of Native American culture and symbols is racist and unacceptable. I hope you will change it soon. FYI – you have become an example of cultural insensitivity in our on-going Youth Development workshops. We’ll change that when you do. Cheers, J! Leonhardy Jay Leonhardy Program Coordinator YouthWORKS Division Department of Employment & Training City of Richmond

Sotaro Shibahara
Sotaro Shibahara
Submitted by Sotaro Shibahara on
Gary Lin forgot to start his email with "I'm not racist but..." :P Unfortunately, even ethnic minorities are not immune to being racist, and all the worse because they believe themselves above racism because they themselves have experienced racism, that even the most politely worded constructive criticisms suggesting that they may have engaged in some unintentional racism is met with exactly the kind of knee-jerk defensive reaction that you see from white liberals accused of the same thing: their cognitive dissonance and multiple privileges simply won't allow them to even contemplate the possibility that they themselves might be racist, because their world view and view of self sees themselves as anti-racist. Some of the most unintentionally racist people I know are well-meaning anti-racists who are simply blinkered by their own privileges and ignorance. Lin clearly doesn't know or doesn't understand that just because he may have experienced his share of anti-Asian racism doesn't mean that he has any clue what it's like to be Native American/First Nations, and it's folly on his part to think that he does. I mean, I've faced anti-Asian racism myself, but as someone of Japanese descent, I certainly have no idea what it's like for, for example, the Chinese people who endured the horrific war crimes during the Rape of Nanking. It's an apples to oranges comparison, and he would do well to be mindful of that. Sad. Anyone know if he has a Facebook, Twitter, etc. where I can explain this to him? If this is how Lin does 'marketing', and his defensive email is his idea of public relations, I wouldn't hire him to promote anything. In this day and age especially, he should know better.

Mojo Hand's picture
Mojo Hand
Submitted by Mojo Hand on
I am Chinese American and this guy is an idiot. He just doesn't get it. And he, of all people SHOULD get it, having grown up in San Francisco; he should have more cultural sensitivity. Especially when Asian Americans get crapped on in the media and stereotyped as well! But it's okay to do it to some other marginalized group? And the entire thing about having Native friends is further insulting.....what is wrong with people? How is it that people are so lacking in empathy?

Mojo Hand's picture
Mojo Hand
Submitted by Mojo Hand on
@Sotaro---I'm Asian American as well and yes, Gary's response is really disappointing. And insulting too when throwing out the defense of, "well some of my best friends are Native". It's really disappointing that Gary exhibited very little self-reflection or empathy, especially when Asian Americans experience similar marginalization and stereotyping by the media....you know, how would Gary feel if at some conference someone played a gong every time he walked past, or had scantily clad geisha girls at some display booth? Native women were being fetishized and promoted as hypersexual as much as Asian women constantly are.... So how can he not see it? Well, perhaps his upbringing in Minnesota has him a little too white washed. As a minority, you go along to get along with the majority, to include subduing your own cultural and racial identity to fit in....but even if you and I can't quite know what it's like to grow up Native, the fact is we both experienced racism and unkind behavior just because of how we look and who we are. and that is where our empathy is rooted in: the ugly experience of exclusion and unequal treatment.....but yes, you're correct, in this day and age, his defensiveness and ignorance is quite sad because he should know better.