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East Passyunk to change its Native American logo, a step its business association calls ‘long overdue’

People have been calling for the logo’s removal for years. The district said a new logo, the specifics of which have yet to be determined, will be unveiled in early 2021.

The logo of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, which the designers meant to honor local Indigenous heritage but has drawn criticism for not accurately representing the Lenape people native to the area.
The logo of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, which the designers meant to honor local Indigenous heritage but has drawn criticism for not accurately representing the Lenape people native to the area.Read moreIMRAN SIDDIQUEE

Philadelphia’s East Passyunk neighborhood is set to redesign its logo in a move that it says is “long overdue” to correct the image’s misrepresentation of the region’s Indigenous people.

The East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District said in a statement that it is “in the process” of making the change. Specifics of the redesign have yet to be determined.

The district said the decades-old logo “inaccurately linked the silhouette of a Native American with the etymology of the Passyunk name from its Lenape roots.” It depicts a person wearing a Western Plains headdress, which would not have been worn by the Lenape people.

J.R. Norwood, chief justice of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal nation’s Supreme Court and a New Jersey pastor, called the change “a move in the right direction" and said he’d like to see a new logo represent Indigenous people in an accurate way, perhaps with an illustration of a Lenape village or of one of their symbols, such as a turtle, a wolf, or a turkey.

“It’s not just a matter of changing a logo, but of providing an education on Indigenous people, who are not just locked in the past,” Norwood said. In conversations with district officials, he told them his "greatest concern was that they didn’t just change it to something that didn’t represent the Native history of the region.”

» READ MORE: East Passyunk reconsiders neighborhood logo after writer calls out ‘casual racism’

Those conversations began after South Philadelphia writer Imran Siddiquee penned a piece for City Lab in late 2018 with the headline “The Casual Racism of a Philadelphia Neighborhood’s Manhole Covers.” Siddiquee wrote that the logo appears repeatedly in the neighborhood, on the manhole covers beneath pedestrians’ feet and in orange signs hanging above the street.

“What’s harder to locate is any official explanation as to why the image — of a person in a Native headdress — is on the ground in the first place, or how it came to represent the area,” Siddiquee wrote. The piece likened the logo to racist “Indian Head” imagery, which historically appeared in advertisements that placed bounties on the heads of Indigenous people.

Conversations about the trendy neighborhood’s ubiquitous logo intensified. Norwood, other tribal officials, and Indigenous-rights activists said the logo was offensively stereotypical and historically inaccurate.

» READ MORE: For local Native Americans, a reckoning over hurtful images goes way beyond one South Philadelphia statue

In response, the improvement district’s executive director, Adam Leiter, said the group was “open to furthering the discussion, connecting it with education, and making sure the neighborhood continues to evolve.”

In the nearly two years that followed, the country and region have experienced a reckoning with systemic racism. This past summer, the Black Lives Matter movement, spurred by the police killing of George Floyd, once again brought conversations about Native imagery to the forefront.

At school districts across the region, students have pushed for the banning of mascots and team names that appropriate the cultures of Indigenous people. The Washington NFL team retired its previous name, a Native American slur that it had used for nearly 87 years.

» READ MORE: In Pennsylvania public schools, an ‘epidemic’ of Native American mascots and nicknames

Siddiquee admitted Monday to being heartened to see that Indigenous people have been involved in the East Passyunk change, but added that “the change is a small one" and much more is needed in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

That was evidenced, Siddiquee said, by the fact that the news was circulating Monday — which, depending on where you live, is Columbus Day, a holiday that celebrates the explorer who contributed to the genocide of Indigenous people, or Indigenous Peoples' Day, which honors them. In Philadelphia, Columbus Day remains a holiday, Siddiquee noted.

But, Siddiquee said, “the good news is welcome," even if it’s just in one South Philly neighborhood.

The East Passyunk Avenue district is in the process of choosing a designer for the new logo, Leiter said, and will seek public input over the coming months. It plans to unveil the redesign in early 2021, the executive director said.

» READ MORE: OPINION: Is it time for America to stop celebrating Columbus Day? | Pro/Con

The district said the image would be changed on all print and digital signage for the neighborhood. It plans to continue to work with the Ramapough Lenape Nation, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, and local civic associations, it said, to also mark the history of the Lenape people with an official plaque or marker.

Norwood, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal official, said he hopes folks in East Passyunk welcome the change and educate themselves on not only the history of Indigenous people but also the experiences of Native people living today.

“Accurate representation of the heritage of the area and the continuing connection to the living communities is something that the people of that area today should be proud,” Norwood said, “and embrace as part of their own history.”