Pizza shop apologizes for Thanksgiving ad ‘making light’ of Native American genocide

Right Coast Pizza, located in Greeley, Colorado, apologized for a Thanksgiving ad that seemed to joke about Native Americans catching smallpox from pilgrims. Owner Justin Vogel said it wasn’t meant to be racist.
Right Coast Pizza, located in Greeley, Colorado, apologized for a Thanksgiving ad that seemed to joke about Native Americans catching smallpox from pilgrims. Owner Justin Vogel said it wasn’t meant to be racist. Screenshot from Northern Colorado Latino Foundation

Justin Vogel says he doesn’t think the Thanksgiving-themed advertisement for his Colorado pizza shop is racist, but he understands the controversy.

“I don’t know if the right term is ‘racist.’ It is definitely not correct,” Vogel told The Denver Post. “It is, basically, making light of genocide. It is coarse and inappropriate.”

He’s talking about an ad for Right Coast Pizza, the restaurant he owns in Greeley, Colorado. It’s a picture of a pilgrim saying, “Sorry about all the smallpox. How about a slice of pepperoni?” as she hands a pizza to a Native American wearing a traditional headdress.

It’s estimated that about 90 percent of Native Americans died from exposure to diseases like smallpox that pilgrims brought over, according to PBS. As noted by the History Channel, there’s evidence that European colonizers purposefully gave Native Americans some blankets contaminated with smallpox in an attempt to kill them through biological warfare.

The controversial ad was published in BandWagon Magazine, an arts and entertainment publication located in Northern Colorado.

The Northern Colorado Latino Foundation called it a “very public racist ad” in a Facebook post condemning the image.

“We are saddened by the privilege of Right Coast Pizza in turning the genocide of Native Americans into a very inappropriate display of derogatory humor,” Joe Molina, NCLF board president, wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “We ask that BandWagon Magazine publisher take this experience seriously and acknowledge their mistake.”

Ely Corliss, publisher of the magazine, said “we extend our apologies to everyone who’s seen this insensitive and ignorant ad,” Fox31 reported.

On its Facebook page, the magazine assured its readers that “your voices are valid” and “both the magazine and our clients regret ever printing” the advertisement.

“We think it’s eye-opening for everyone involved, which ultimately is a good thing,” the post read. “The creative team behind this advertisement went too far and both the client and our publisher deeply regret our lack of quality control in letting this go to print.”

And on Right Coast Pizza’s Facebook page, the company wrote that “BandWagon and ourselves try to keep our ads edgy and by no means did we intend to offend anyone.”

“We are taking steps to remove any copies that we can and to review our ad approval policies,” it reads. “We hope you’ll understand that this was an honest mistake and we are truly sorry to the Native American Community and anyone else this may have offended.”

In his interview with The Denver Post, Vogel said he agreed to do a Thanksgiving-themed ad when asked by people at BandWagon Magazine — but he didn’t take the time to really look over the ad when the magazine sent it over for approval.

That, he said, led to the publication of the controversial advertisement, according to The Denver Post.

To help rectify the situation, the NCLF hosted an event Monday night to allow Vogel and Corliss to apologize to those offended, Fox31 reported. Some attendees shared their own experiences with racism, the outlet reported, and both men promised to learn from the ad.

Joe Molina, from the NCLF, said the meeting — which ended in a standing ovation for both Corliss and Vogel — makes him hopeful.

“I am accepting their apology,” he told Fox31, “because I know there’s going to be positive change.”

Not everyone, however, seemed ready to forgive and forget.

One commenter on the pizza shop’s Facebook wrote that “this isn’t an apology.”

“This is a ‘we’re sorry you got mad that we mocked the genocide of 80% of your population,’” the user wrote. “Believe me, I’ll be doing my best to make sure no one I know orders from you, and that they spread the word.”

“How did this get approved?” another person asked. “You had to look at it... You didn’t see the obvious racial implications? I don’t buy it.”

Two young boys perform traditional Native American dance. The performance was at North Carolina Central University's inagural powwow to celebrate Native American culture on the school's Durham campus.