Philadelphia’s East Passyunk neighborhood is changing its logo, which depicts a stereotypical image of an Indigenous person in a headdress, after neighbors denounced it for casual racism.
The logo came into use in the neighborhood when the business improvement district was established in 2002. Designers saw the logo as a nod to the origins of the word Passyunk, a Lenape word meaning “in the valley.” However, local Indigenous people describe the logo as both racist and historically inaccurate. The image is evocative of bounty posters and beheadings of Indigenous people by colonizers.
Pastor John Norwood, a former Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal councilperson from South Jersey told Billy Penn that the logo depicts a headdress that a Lenape person would never have worn. “It was popularized by cowboy and Indian movies. Everybody thinks that every Indian from the Atlantic to the Pacific fit into the cultural framework of a Plains Indian, and that would be ridiculous,” Norwood said.
The business improvement district’s executive director Adam Leiter says that replacing the logo is one of his top priorities. The district promises to make the logo redesign a public process. Already Leiter has been consulting Pastor Norwood on the process. Norwood does not want to see the representation of Indigenous people erased and has instead suggested visual symbols that actually represent Lenape culture such as a box turtle, wolf or turkey.
Leiter expects the new symbol to be revealed in January 2021, although it will take longer to erase the physical evidence– utility hole covers and flags– of the old symbol. Until such evidence can be replaced, the business improvement district will erect a historical marker outlining why the old symbol was inaccurate.