Coast Salish Influences in Seahawks Fan Gear

November 2, 2011 — 13 Comments

Welcome guest blogger, and one of my BFF’s, Marjorie J (Tulalip and Swinomish), she’s a current law student and I’ve clearly gotten in her head with the Native Appropriations talk. If I’ve gotten in your head too and you’d like to guest blog about an issue, just send me an email!

I have mixed feelings about The 12th Man design by one of my favorite t-shirt companies, Casual Industrees. I am not sure if the artist is from a Coast Salish tribe, which either heightens or ends the debate. Based on my personal aesthetic alone my first reaction is: this looks awesome. Of course being one of Adrienne’s friends and a devoted fan, I question my endorsement after my analysis naturally evolves into larger questions about art, identity, acceptance, and what happens when Native cultures live harmoniously (or at least not so adversely) with others? 

The Amateur’s Art Analysis and A Peek Into My Thought Process:
The artist extended the theme of the stylized Seahawks logo on a foam head and added wings, not previously found on the logo or the foam heads. The style of the wings is clearly contemporary and does not follow the customary rules of any Coast Salish art forms I know. Rather, the wings incorporate customary shapes used in Coast Salish art by modern and traditional (Native) artists alike. 
Where we start to move away from imagery of a fan’s foam head towards a fan’s headdress or mask is the face: the two green paint lines on the cheek suggest the 12th Man is wearing “war paint” instead of mimicking the black grease or tape the players use on their cheeks to cut down on glare. Now it’s starting to look more like a hipster appropriation and misinterpretation and I wonder – was the inspiration for this design a transformation mask
Let’s assume the artist is not from a Coast Salish tribe. Generally as to the entire design and specifically as to the shapes used in the wings, how offensive is this appropriation? Consider…
Native Identity and Regional Identity: 
One day a few weeks ago, a fellow Washingtonian (who does not identify as Native) and I were discussing how Coast Salish art is not hard to come across in the day-to-day life of a non-Native person in Washington and especially Seattle. It is commissioned as public art by Seattle (sculptures, 2-D designs, and even manhole covers among other things). It’s bought up and displayed by universities, airports, art museums, hospitals, private non-native collectors, tribes, and Indian casinos alike. My friend mentioned how she didn’t realize until moving away from Washington how accustomed she’d come to seeing it. I realized that the images I find so comforting are also reminiscent of home to her. 
Because of this day-to-day presence of Coast Salish art through the region, the art is not only Native, it might also be a component of regional identity. 
Because of this, I started to think about the extent of local tribal influence outside of art. Anyone with nominal familiarity with my tribe will probably tell you that our ‘presence’ in the past 30 years has grown like crazy. The success of commercial investments has translated into economic and political influence that reaches far beyond the reservation borders. 
Now, any tribe with economic success is an exception and not the norm. However, keeping in mind that most tribes are probably working towards more economic success and political representation…
Let’s Compare Another Regional Identity: 
Looking at this, I started to compare it to what I saw in New Zealand. Check out the use of shapes in the 12th Man and compare it to the appropriation/incorporation/influence of common Maori art and shapes throughout New Zealand (look at the Rugby World Cup logo for Wellington and official ball, this place name sign for the Kapiti Coast, and a logo for a University of Auckland event & tell me if you see any similarities). The Maori culture is an undeniable, unique, and influential component of the broader New Zealand culture and identity.  I wonder how the prevalent use of Maori art and themes by non-Maori has evolved to what it is today? Does it matter that Maori make up a larger percentage of the NZ population than Natives do in the U.S.? That the Maori language is one of the official languages of NZ? Or that the Maori have devoted seats in Parliment?  If it’s not appropriation, is it incorporation – suggesting the non-Maori with power are acting more cooperatively than entitled? Or is it influence – a result of political and cultural power? The extent to which any or all Maori people believe it is appropriation, I obviously have not inquired. But if my questions are answered, how do they inform my last question? 
Yup, finally my last question: 
So, for me at least, it all begs the question: When Native cultures actively work to increase artistic, political, and economic success in a region and have thus become a component of both Native identity AND regional identity, is there a point at which we, the local Natives accept non-Native interpretation/incorporation of our culture (i.e. art) as something that unites us as a region of people?
 

(Thanks Marjorie!)

Adrienne K.

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  • Boozoojack

    It is a matter of cultural property and the exploitation of a resource by non-natives for material gain.

    • 8mph Ansible

      I’d say you poignantly bullseyed it right there. Especially since the end result is material gain for a non-native party as end result.

  • India Rael

    Artist Andy Everson, who is Kwakwaka’wakw, I believe has definitely done a series of images on the Seahawk. They’re on his FB page, and one is dangerously similar to this one, although, in my opinion, far more interesting. Could be a serious case of appropriation here.

  • India Rael

    My mistake. Andy’s works are Canucks related designs, which of course makes more sense. And this does use distinctly Salish formal elements on the wing. Hrm…

  • http://twitter.com/Wolowic Jeni Wolowic

    Wonderful post and interesting questions. Vancouver is very similar to Seattle in its prominence of Native art, but a general ignorance among its settler population. Your reference to the Seahawks reminds me a lot of Native connections to the Canucks in British Columbia. There’s is a killer whale a little reminiscent of but in no way following any rules of Northwest Coast Design. I have to admit that I too am an immigrant and can only speak from that perspective, but I have worked with the Tsimshian and Nisga’a on the North Coast for many years. I have been told the most popular request to First Nations jewelry artists by First Nations customers is a Canucks emblem. I know youth who make the emblem into beading projects and cell phone medicine bag like purses. So I think the incorporation goes both ways but remains uniquely negotiated by everyone. An elder with a background in provincial politics once told me as a joke, but in all seriousness: “The Canucks are the only thing that successfully unites every band and tribe in British Columbia.”

  • Sheena Roetman

    Great post. Put into words a lot of questions/feelings I have about these issues. Thank you!!

  • Natalie Coates

    Hey dude awesome work!! Definitely food for thought. I think the difficulty that we have in NZ is that whether Maori are offended by uses of Maori imagery (and see it as appropriation rather then positive incorporation) really just depends on what image is being used, who is using it and what it is being used on. A full facial moko (tattoo), which is sort of a tapu (sacred) personal mark of identity on a Paul Frank monkey face = not cool. The same with having a similar Maori face on a beer bottle. But the simple koru (which is the fern frond in a lot of the images and symbolises growth) often doesn’t seem so bad and can represent a commitment to a bicultural nation (e.g. the Air NZ sign). So theres a line – but its often hard to know where it falls. Wicked article though girl. xx

  • Holly

    Anything, I should say, is better than the cartoon drawing used by the Cleveland Indians. That image is so racist…eh, Ill get off the soapbox. But Im torn on this- the generic “Indian” head at least plays off of Coast art in some small way. I think the more regional influence a mascot has, the more people become aware that the 500+ tribes of this country do not all wear breast plates, long war bonnets, say hau, or whatever other stereotype you can conjure up (and no disrespect meant to those that do- Im sure you’d like the world to know that some of us DONT have those things). I guess its picking the best from the not that great? Food for thought is the best food of all :) Good article.

  • Ericalas

    In my last year at UW in Seattle I took 3 courses on Native American Art of the Northwest Coast as part of my Art History degree. During that time I studied A LOT about the various types of art and ceremonial dress along the Northwest Coast and how varied and sacred they are. Consequently this jersey really bugs me, it goes against much of what I was taught was respectful and right where Northwest Coast Native American Art is concerned.

    What bothers me is 2 fold. 1) Is the art Salish or does it just steal some basic Northwest design elements to seem Salish. 2) As far as I understand the wearing of a head dress such as the one depicted is a privilege given only to certain people, only within certain groups and is only meant to be worn during ceremonial occasions, therefore it seems wrong to have a depiction of said head dress worn to a sporting event. Football is not ceremonial, it is not sacred it seems wrong to use art which can be described as depicting ceremony to advertise a football team.

    Now as I am not Native American my points are coming from a purely outside, and purely academic stand point. But it is my respect for the Salish in particular which led me to this blog and leads me to comment today, and the jersey above seems disrespectful, no matter how respectfully meant.

  • steve julian

    Great questions. Not sure of where to draw the line as to what is okay and what is in bad taste. For example the logo of the chicago blackhawks, good or bad? Clevland Indians is bad, no doubt for sure. |There are images used in tattoos by non-Indians that are based on either Indian faces or imagery. Good or bad? I tend to look at the way something is used. For example a beer joint in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada had used the name “Crazy Horse” for the name of it’s bar. Shameful for the association and the distasteful manner it was used for an Indian hero. Regardless, many patrons were Indian, go figure? A mixed bag of views when it comes to what is appropriate and what is not.

  • Grafton Kevan

    I’m white.

    I wouldn’t buy or wear that shirt, because it seems to be making a man wearing a mask or headdress into the mascot of a football team. The other/old Seahawks logo seems to me to be bird-as-mascot, with the osprey depicted in a style that hints at the art of the native cultures of that region. My reaction is that the old one is okay and this one is weird.

    I am very interested in people’s responses to the more general question. My dad and myself are both quite keen on “Woodlands School” and “Indian Group of Seven” art. My dad’s done some paintings that include elements of that style. His paintings are Ojibwe influenced. I don’t really think they’d come across as cultural appropriation, but then again, I think it’s very obvious that he just connects with the way Norval Morrisseau and related artists express certain ideas about ecology. His paintings are about plants and insects, not other people’s stories or ways of live.

    I’m not even sure if that’s relevant to the appropriation question at all. At least, not in the way we’re talking about. I have this necktie with a Morriseau painting printed on it, and often get weird, blank looks if I say, “Check out this cool Ojibwe tie I’ve got!” ‘Cause, you know, it’s contemporary, and its strong roots in the cultural history of the artist aside, it’s not the sort of object that you can use to dress up as an Indian, nor is it a historic item from a people lost in the past, so it’s Ojibwe-ness causes some sort of cognitive dissonance for some people.

  • Whitney Allison

    Holla from Seattle!

    Thank you so much for this article!!!! It definitely encapsulates how I feel but can never appropriately express! I’m non-native, and an assumption often made about non-natives, on this blog and elsewhere, is a lack of exposure to regional tribes. For example – the idea of plains and southwest styles being archetypal of “Indianness” is strange to me – I grew up in Seattle and have always understood that native styles/cultures vary regionally, which is especially evident here with the ubiquitousness of Salish designs.

  • Korimako

    Ngā mihi ki a kōrua, e te kaituhi me te kaiwhakahaere o tēnei pae tukutuku. This is a well written piece, and I think you touched on some really interesting ideas, especially in your comparison to Māori culture.

    I think that Māori influence in New Zealand (NZ), is mainly the result of a political foothold gained during the formative years of NZ as a country. Although there has been much resistance, Māori have continued to be politically active. This, in my opinion, has paved the way for Māori in other sectors of NZ culture, such as art. Now, Māori artists are snatching up opportunities to be noticed and take control of our art forms. However, this still meets resistance because it is influence, and it upsets the dynamic in this country, unsettling the proud “settler” culture with a growing awareness of our indigenous culture.

    So we should continue to be active politically, creatively and culturally, as it creates awareness and better opportunities for us. But we must closely guard our native identities, because we are the ones who hurt when they are misused, misrepresented and appropriated.

    Non-natives may nestle under the umbrella of our cultures, our identities and be united, but they must realise that it is not theirs and they must respect that.