Appropriateness of "indian head" gold piece

When I read that the US will be issuing a new gold piece, based on the old “buffalo nickel” design, my first thought was to wonder whether the indian head on the flip side was entirely appropriate.
My frame of reference was the NCAA’s recent ban of the U of I Illini, and I believe the Fighting Sioux from N. Dakota or somewhere.
I know the NCAA is a private organization, as opposed to the US Mint, but it struck me as a little odd that the 2 organizations would have such apparently different views as to the appropriateness of native American imagery.
Am I clearly missing something?

Well, there is a pretty big difference between being put on a coin (where the portraits are generally of esteemed persons) and being used as a mascot.

I could certainly see a request that the portrait be updated to more accurately depict attire or even show a specific person, and perhaps that they it no longer be referred to as “Indian head”, but I doubt it would be viewed as offensive for the reasons mascots are.

I vaguely recall some controversy regarding Sacagawea on the golden dollar, but that had more to do with feelings towards Sacagawea herself than the idea of depicting someone of her descent on a coin.

I think the problem with Native Americans as team mascots is based in the dislike of Native American activists (along with nearly everyone else) for two-dimensional stereotypes. I cannot imagine them having a problem with a historically accurate and respectful representation.

There does not seem to be any easily retrievable indication of what nation(s) the three chiefs belonged to. Two Moons died in 1917, John Big Tree in the early 1920s. There are two men named Iron Tail, one dying at about the same time as Big Tree, and the other in the 1960s; which was the Fraser model remains debatable.

It’s possible, however, that the design may be the incused design created at about the same time for the half eagle ($5 gold piece) by Bela Lyon Pratt. Not having a reference to the story at hand, I am not clear on which design is being used, if either, or why.

The “Indian head” coin is no more offensive than all those “white man head” coins. It’s a man’s head. Who gives a damn what man the race is? I doubt he would be on a piece of currency if he wasn’t well thought of.

Here’s a link to a news article which shows an image of both sides of the coin:

From the mint:

“Many people will recall getting a nickel with the Indian head and the buffalo. It is really a beautiful design and evokes wonderful images.”**

To me, that smacks of romantic nostalgia, rather than respect. And I understand the schools involved maintain that they afford the utmost respect to their native American “mascots.” They cherish their symbols (at least in part) for the values they embody. Which I could well imagine arguing is more laudable than misty recollections of buying an egg cream at the soda fountain…

The difference is that we don’t have any “generic white guy” coins. This isn’t a portrait of a specific great Native American, but a generic Indian, just like the flip side is a generic buffalo. It’s commemorating a race (or perhaps more accurately multiple conflated races), not a person.

I’m not a fan. I’m all for more diverse coinage, but choose specific people to be remembered. How would we feel if they issued a “some black guy” quarter, instead of, say, a MLK or Rosa Parks quarter?

(Hey, a Rosa Parks quarter, that’s not a bad idea…)

I see some bitter irony in the placing of the portrait of a Native American on a gold coin because, in many ways, it was the search for gold that led to the conflicts between the natives and the immigrants that ultimately resulted in the destruction of their way of life.

No, but we’ve had many, many coins portraying “Lady Liberty,” who was always, supposedly, caucasian.

So what purpose - exactly - is the indian head on the coin supposed to serve?
Hey, y’all - remember how we stole these jokers’ lands, broke every damned treaty we signed with those suckers, and pursued a systematic program of extermination?
Or is it just romantic nostalgia for the simpler times of Tom Mix and the Lone Ranger? Perhaps the next coin should have some darkies happily singing down on the plantation…

I guess you’ve never seen a 1976 bicentennial quarter bearing the image of a generic colonial drummer in lieu of George Washington. I’d have to ask what’s so bad about have a generic image of a Native American, or a generic image from any other group, on a coin?

I really don’t understand the hostility some people seem to have for a generic Indian to be put on a coin. Is it demeaning or otherwise insulting? In my opinion it isn’t any more insulting than the generic drummer on the '76 quarter. Would we even be having this discussion if it were a cowboy or a pioneer?


One thing to keep in mind for those who advocate putting a known person’s head on the coin: There were many nations (in the literal sense) among the native peoples in the Americas. Singling out a known representative of one nation is a slap in the face for those who considered that nation to be its enemy. I’m not so sure that members of the Crow nation (Apsaalooke), for example, would like to see a Lakota face on a coin in the US (or vice versa).

i have no objection to an indian on a coin, but neither do I object to indian imagery for sports teams.
I do not see one as more or less (dis)respectful than the other.
Does any other nation romanticize its vanquished indigenous people similarly to the US?

How about Australia? During the 2000 Olympics, you couldn’t blink your eye without hearing something about Aboriginal people.

As a Briton I could be wrong but didn’t you issue a Kennedy half dollar?

Oh, yes. With the exception of the recent “nickels” (5c pieces), all American coinage (as opposed to “bullion coins” struck to sell at the market price of an ounce of gold, etc., even if they have a hypothetical face value) has been representational of individuals: Abraham Lincoln on the cent since 1909, Thomas Jefferson on the nickel since the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt on the dime (10c)since 1946, George Washington on the quarter dollar (25c) since 1932, John F. Kennedy on the half dollar (50c) since 1964 (and preceded by Benjamin Franklin), and Sacajawea on the dollar coin (preceded by Dwight D. Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony).

The key point to panache’s comment was that Lady Liberty was a generic caucasian figure not intended to depict any specific individual. There would be a big difference between depicting Chief Joseph, Hiyawontha, Sequoyah, or another celebrated Native American, and depicting “an Injun brave” – the former is honoring an individual, the latter, perpetuating a stereotype.

Fraser’s design, by the way, IMO attempts to occupy the supposedly excluded middle there: It attempts to honor the concept of “the dignity of Native American chieftanship” not by depicting a generic “Indian chief” nor by picking a single chief, but rather uses a composite portrait based on three different identified men: perhaps the first case of “morphing” as serious art.

Still America as some pug-ugly coins. The mint ought to have a redesign contest.

(Remember the 'eagle landing on the moon of the Ike dollar? Cool. Lady Liberty with the flag as her cloak on the present $1? Neato.)

What specific person was the 1976 bicentennial quarter suppose to represent?


Not particularly, though I do recall that image on the obverse of the Susan B. Anthony dollar.

Yeah, that too; I forgot to include it as another exception. And the worst part of it is, you’d already mentioned that exception earlier in the thread. But in general my point was accurate, just with some bicentennial commemoratives of various events as exceptions to the general rule.

Thank God they got a better portrait of Jefferson! I have immense respect for the man, but the portrait on the nickel for most of my life has got to be the ugliest thing on a coin since George IV died.