In an effort to transition to a more culturally sensitive icon, The Mott Haven Herald has replaced the logo that sat atop its news site for 15 years with a new one depicting the Port Morris clocktower.
The original icon, a weathervane that once adorned the top of the old J. L. Mott Iron Works building, depicted a Lenape man standing atop an arrow while drawing his bow in the direction of the wind. According to the paper’s editor, Joe Hirsch, this image was originally selected because of the historical significance of the iron works building to the Mott Haven community.
The change came about after student reporters for the news site, which is financed and operated by the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, insisted that the logo was insulting to Native Americans and had to go. The Lenapes inhabited The Bronx and much of the NYC metropolitan area long before Europeans arrived on American shores.
“It didn’t represent the school, ” said Julian Robert-Grmela, a current student at the journalism school. The change was made in January without comment by the paper. But Robert-Grmela, along with several other students and faculty members, felt it important that the school announce the change publicly to be fully transparent with its readers about the reason for its decision.
Mott Haven’s namesake, Jordan L. Mott, founded the J. L. Mott Iron Works building on 2403 3rd Ave. in 1828. The iron works building became a successful foundry, selling metal castings of stoves, pipes, cauldrons, and other cast iron materials that were wildly in demand at the time. The factory became a major employer for many of those in or around the community. The Ironworks relocated to Trenton, N.J. in 1902.
The weathervane, made of molded copper, was one of many manufactured by the Iron Works during its heyday. There is a long tradition in the U.S, of using caricatures or motifs of indigenous people in state and commercial iconography.
The use of the indigenous people in logos and icons has drawn public scrutiny in the past few decades. Particularly, the national conversation has focused on the use of such logos in the NFL team logos or with school mascots. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians were at the crux of a heated national debate, for their depiction of a nondescript Native American with red skin and a broad smile.
The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), and many other Indigenous associations, have formed coalitions to urge institutions to end their use of indigenous images. According to the NAJA site, mascots and team names derived from Native peoples, “reinforce racist stereotypes of Native Americans, which then acts as a replacement for the accurate and authentic portrayal of Native people and communities.”
The Lenapes that originally occupied much of the Northeastern United States were forced to gradually relocate westward as they were pushed out of their homelands. Today, survivors of the Lenape people mostly reside in Oklahoma and Ontario, Canada, although New Jersey recognizes a branch of the Lenape nation.
“It was long past time for this icon to be retired, and for us to apologize for its continued use,” said Hirsch.