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After almost 20 years, East Passyunk Avenue is getting a new logo. The EPA Business Improvement District has begun the process to replace its current imagery, which shows the isolated visage of a Native American person wearing a headdress.
The logo, which appears prominently along the South Philly retail corridor, was called out in 2018 for its “casual racism.” The design is similar to a bounty poster, and the image does not represent tribes who lived in this area.
“It’s exhausting, honestly,” said East Falls resident Cassie Mitchell, a native of the Modoc and Klamath tribes in Oregon who moved to Philadelphia four years ago. “When you’re there in that neighborhood, you get the feeling that people in the neighborhood couldn’t care less, [that] they don’t know anything about the logo or the history of it.”
Pastor John Norwood, a former Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal councilperson from South Jersey, said the image is not historically accurate.
The headdress worn by the man on display on the Avenue is characteristic of the Western Plains indigenous tribes, Norwood explained. It’s not something a Lenape person — native to what is now known as Philadelphia — would ever have worn.
There’s also the fact that the logo is linked to the historic beheading of Indigenous peoples by colonizers.
“It was popularized by cowboy and Indian movies,” Norwood said. “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.”
Replacing the logo has been a priority for the BID’s executive director, Adam Leiter, since he took over two years ago, he said. He expects to reveal the new one by January 2021.
“We absolutely recognize an update is needed in order to address some misrepresentation,” Leiter told Billy Penn. “This has been an unwitting slight against the Lenape people.”
Norwood, the pastor, would like to see the logo replaced with something else that honors the Lenape people native to this region. “At least now there’s some representation that this is an Indigenous area,” he said. “Erasing us would be even more offensive.”
The logo appears to have been in use since the business improvement district was started in 2002, a hat tip to “Passyunk” being a Lenape word that means “in the valley.” The design is currently displayed on utility hole covers and flags along the avenue, plus all East Passyunk BID digital and printed materials.
Its redesign will be a public process, director Leiter said. After a designer is settled upon, he’s planning some kind of virtual community engagement, including an online survey.
Lenape people have already been included in the process. Norwood, who’s been consulting with Leiter for the last few months, has put forth a few ideas for visuals that would work better to rep Lenape people: a prayer pipe, box turtle, wolf or turkey — all symbols of subtribes native to the area, he said.
Once there’s a new logo, it’ll appear first on EPABID’s digital and print materials, including the website and staff business cards.
It’ll take longer to change out the physical evidence of the old logo on East Passyunk Avenue, Leiter said, because of costs. Meantime, he’s planning to put up a historical marker explaining why the old logo is historically inaccurate, and outlining some legit Lenape history.
Mitchell, of East Falls, was glad to hear of the pending changes.
“It’s a start,” Mitchell said. “For me as an Indigenous person, I’m accepting of things like that because I’m used to it. When you want change to happen, it doesn’t happen right away. You have to keep fighting.”