BANDON — At age 66, Sandee Klein is finally living her dream of having a food truck. Now, she's worried that dream might be derailed after several people have threatened to sue if she doesn't change the name and logo because they find it offensive to the Native American culture.
The name of the truck, located just south of Bandon on U.S. Highway 101, is Pow Wow Fried, and Klein serves Indian fry bread tacos and fruit-filled pies. The business has been open for only about seven weeks, but word of her tasty fare has spread around Coos County. With Facebook the word traveled even faster.
A woman in Port Orford, who is not Native American, drove by and the name and logo struck her. The logo depicts a child in a Native American headdress and clothing, standing next to a teepee. The words "Pow Wow Fried" are woven into the artwork.
The woman who complained, Sarah Molloy, thought it might be perceived as offensive to Native Americans, so she went on Facebook, found a group for Native Americans and posed her question: "Pow Wow Fried is a food truck run by a white woman who ate fry bread tacos at a pow wow and started her business recently. The name strikes me as not so respectful to natives and her logo seems rather stereotypical."
Molloy asked who of the 18,000 members of the Native American Facebook group agreed with her.
"Am I off base here, or do others see this as problematic," Molloy wrote.
Several people replied that they agreed with her, with comments such as "extremely offensive and disgusting." In short order, the message and link to the Pow Wow Fried Facebook page was shared with several large Native American groups until it had been seen by thousands of people.
Friends of Klein and others locally rallied in support of the name, logo and business. Others agreed with Molloy, who later posted an apology.
Klein's daughter, Anne Klein-Jelinek, who administers the Pow Wow Fried Facebook page, said she received five threats via a private message that she felt were legitimate from people who said they could and would seek litigation to have the food truck's name changed. They said they were closely connected to Native American groups that had sued the Washington Redskins. Those people called it cultural appropriation — the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture.
"I was absolutely appalled," Jelinek said. "To me it's absolutely ridiculous. My mother chose to do this because it's something we love. And she loves the name, it exactly conveys what she serves."
Jelinek said she was told by one woman that the logo was offensive because the cartoonish Native American is wearing a headdress — an item sacred to Native Americans.
"You can buy headdresses at a truck stop," Klein-Jelinek said. "Target sells teepees for children. As long as we continue to be offended and cater to this kind of thing, it will create a larger rift. I think people should have their culture, but we are all Americans first."
At first, Jelinek and Klein felt threatened and started looking for another name by holding a contest — the same way the first name was chosen. Jeremy Bemetz of Bandon initially suggested the "Pow Wow" name and Freedom Graphics designed the logo.
Klein said she only means to honor Native Americans by making delicious food. Though her family's background is European, she spent many years in Reno near the Washoe Tribe and drove school bus for the Washoe County School District. After several years in the district, a Native American friend taught her how to make fry bread.
"What have I done to hurt anyone?" Klein asked. "I'm not making fun of them. It was never my intention to do anything derogatory to Native Americans. I just opened a business and what they are trying to do could put me out of business. It would cost a lot to replace all my signage and flyers."
Angela Cardas Meredith of Bandon started a GoFundMe to help Klein defray the costs of changing the name. So far, $225 has been raised.
Despite arguments from dozens of Bandon residents, some people are still adamant that the name and logo offend.
"At what point do you quit turning the other cheek?" said Chy Clayton, a Native American from the Seattle area. "And we are calling it out as much out of annoyance because our kids see this every day and we get tired of it."
A day after the Facebook blow-up, Klein decided maybe she didn't need to change the business's name after all. She called the Coquille Indian Tribe to see if they would endorse a local business serving Indian fry bread. A tribal representative has not yet responded, Klein said.
In a similar case, the Reedsport School District might have to spend more than $60,000 to change its mascot from the "Braves." The state Board of Education adopted a rule in 2012 that banned all public school districts from using any Native American names or images as a mascot. Oregon school districts have been given until July 1, 2017 to change such mascots. If a district does not comply, it could lose state funding.
That case is not yet settled, nor is the Pow Wow Fried issue.
"Right now we're playing a waiting game," Klein said. "If they really do sue me, I'll probably take it all the way to the Supreme Court."