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Forum Home - Go Back > Pow Wow Arena > Ask PowWows.com Use of Native American iconography in branding Use of Native American iconography in branding

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Old 12-18-2015, 09:15 AM   #1
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Use of Native American iconography in branding

Hello, my name is Ian and I am in the process of setting up a new business which aims to help companies collect sustainability data and report it. I have called the company “Totem Sustainability” and got the idea from the concept of a Totem Pole as a way for Native American communities to communicate their values and tell stories of their ancestor. Similarly, I want my company and the system I am developing to embody sustainability values and to tell a companies sustainability story. Indigenous Americans and Canadians also have powerful iconography that I would like to adapt for branding purposes.

I don't want to cause any offence so before I go ahead with my branding I wanted to check that this would be OK with Indigenous Canadian and American people?

Any general feedback on using this as a concept would be greatly appreciated.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
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Old 12-18-2015, 10:59 AM   #2
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Hello, Ian.

Let me explain where I'm coming from: I'm trying to impose the family of concepts embodied by the (English) word "totem" on one the the regulatory reporting tasks I deal with as a chemist -- Conflict Mineral reporting. From that framework I'm just not getting there. Could you please explain how you envision the concept of "totem" as relating to regulatory reporting? (This is your chance to tell me why my initial assumptions, described below, are wrong.)

My first reaction is that you're exploiting the romanticized and cliched image of the Native person as environmentalist. A trope embodied by the anti-litter ads of the 1970's that featured an Italian-American actor in buckskins climbing out of his canoe to weep over littered highways. At first glance, it seems no different than any other brand or stereotype that contributes to the layers of images that obscures our real Native lives and burdens our interactions with the larger culture surrounding us.

Also, since you have established a company name and, I assume, done whatever expensive legal mojo is required, you're already invested in whatever pseudo Native image "totem" and "totem poles" bring to your mind. Isn't it a bit late to ask whether we approve?
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Old 12-19-2015, 09:24 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dodi659 View Post
Hello, my name is Ian and I am in the process of setting up a new business which aims to help companies collect sustainability data and report it. I have called the company “Totem Sustainability” and got the idea from the concept of a Totem Pole

I don't want to cause any offence so before I go ahead with my branding I wanted to check that this would be OK with Indigenous Canadian and American people?

Any general feedback on using this as a concept would be greatly appreciated.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Hey...I'm not Native.....but if this is an IPO, are you gonna give us some stocks for the "advice" here?

You are painting a picture of a company that the public would assume is Native American-owned, or a tribal enterprise, etc.

If you use a graphic logo, or design...which totem of which tribe? Are you going to inform them, get permission? That totem, each spirit symbol, has meaning and tradition for the people that created it....and your company, as nice as it seems, was not the intent of those totem carvers.

Who knows? Maybe their descendants would be okay with it, or even want a piece of the action?

Or would you use a morphed version of a totem, caricature? and what would that look like? A Disneyland prop?

For sustainability..... I like the Rocky Mountains, with snowpack melting into a mountain stream, stands of trees on a slope, with a rising sun glinting over, and a big bull elk in the center popped out against the greenery.

Ahhh...what a shot! Had to be there....

or....two silohuette figures backlit by a rising sun, paddling a birchbark canoe on a pristine lake, no markings, people can assume "natives" without a specific tribe


Best wishes for your endeavor, we only have one Mother Earth.........I see photos from China with people wearing filter masks out in public, even breathing apparatus.....sheesh, they are choking on their own success.
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Old 01-07-2016, 10:27 AM   #4
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Feedback appreicated

Happy New Year and thanks for your responses, really helpful.

OLChemist, I'm still in the very early stages of developing a concept and so far thought that my company could mirror the purpose (or one of the purposes) of a totem pole which can “communicate important aspects of [native] culture. Carvings of animals and other characters typically represent characters or events in a story. The carvings may symbolise or commemorate cultural beliefs that recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events.” (From Wikipedia… sorry). My companies system would represent a conceptual totem pole by communicating the sustainable culture and beliefs of the companies that use it and tell their stories (legends/ notable events) through the reports produced.

Sustainability is no longer just about regulatory reporting, it’s about telling a company’s story, showing that they are serious about the values they communicate to their customers and not just doing good because they have to. Therefore I hope the system will allow companies the flexibility to develop their own reports, to tell their own sustainability story.

With regards to your concern that people my think my company is a native American organisation or in some way represents native American people, I could add a disclaimer to the about page which describes the premise and concept of the business.

Regarding the impact of my branding on the Native American community, I’m thinking more stripped back, elemental design like Google (of course), Apple (of course), Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. So while is may be inspired by native American art I want it to be unique and recognisable as my brand identity. I guess it’s like when an artist gathers imagery to inspire a collection of work, they are not copying what they have collected but using themes that run through the study to form their own vision of a subject or topic.

It is surprisingly cheap to register a company these days (at least here in the UK)! Yes the company name is registered already but I registered it knowing I may need to change it and it’s fairly expensive to do so, only £30.

AmigoKumeyaay, I would not be using a particular tribes’ identity but various examples of native American art to inspire the branding (as described above - I have an illustrator friend who will be doing the work for me once I’ve drafted a brief for him). There won’t be any sunsets or other clichés! I’d like something stripped back and basic.

No this is not for an IPO, maybe one day! I’m still in the very early stages, I’ve not done anything public yet, still working on the prototype. It was important to me to have these conversations now to make sure I was not going to cause any offence and address any issues before they became problems, so thanks very much for your input so far.

While I believe that sustainability imagery including green vistas and wildlife has its place, its not the branding I am going for. I believe that if we are actually going to make a change to the way we live as an entire planet sustainability needs to focus on the everyday experiences of the biggest contributors, and for most of them that means the urban environment, not the Rockies.

If you do not think this is an appropriate concept to pursue I would be happy to develop something different, I have a few other ideas already.

Sorry it's taken me a little while to respond, I was away over Christmas and New Year!

Any other feedback/ suggestions/ criticism?
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Old 01-10-2016, 09:45 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dodi659 View Post
Happy New Year and thanks for your responses, really helpful.

OLChemist, I'm still in the very early stages of developing a concept and so far thought that my company could mirror the purpose (or one of the purposes) of a totem pole which can “communicate important aspects of [native] culture. Carvings of animals and other characters typically represent characters or events in a story. The carvings may symbolise or commemorate cultural beliefs that recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events.” (From Wikipedia… sorry). My companies system would represent a conceptual totem pole by communicating the sustainable culture and beliefs of the companies that use it and tell their stories (legends/ notable events) through the reports produced.

Sustainability is no longer just about regulatory reporting, it’s about telling a company’s story, showing that they are serious about the values they communicate to their customers and not just doing good because they have to. Therefore I hope the system will allow companies the flexibility to develop their own reports, to tell their own sustainability story.

With regards to your concern that people my think my company is a native American organisation or in some way represents native American people, I could add a disclaimer to the about page which describes the premise and concept of the business.

Regarding the impact of my branding on the Native American community, I’m thinking more stripped back, elemental design like Google (of course), Apple (of course), Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. So while is may be inspired by native American art I want it to be unique and recognisable as my brand identity. I guess it’s like when an artist gathers imagery to inspire a collection of work, they are not copying what they have collected but using themes that run through the study to form their own vision of a subject or topic.

It is surprisingly cheap to register a company these days (at least here in the UK)! Yes the company name is registered already but I registered it knowing I may need to change it and it’s fairly expensive to do so, only £30.

AmigoKumeyaay, I would not be using a particular tribes’ identity but various examples of native American art to inspire the branding (as described above - I have an illustrator friend who will be doing the work for me once I’ve drafted a brief for him). There won’t be any sunsets or other clichés! I’d like something stripped back and basic.

No this is not for an IPO, maybe one day! I’m still in the very early stages, I’ve not done anything public yet, still working on the prototype. It was important to me to have these conversations now to make sure I was not going to cause any offence and address any issues before they became problems, so thanks very much for your input so far.

While I believe that sustainability imagery including green vistas and wildlife has its place, its not the branding I am going for. I believe that if we are actually going to make a change to the way we live as an entire planet sustainability needs to focus on the everyday experiences of the biggest contributors, and for most of them that means the urban environment, not the Rockies.

If you do not think this is an appropriate concept to pursue I would be happy to develop something different, I have a few other ideas already.

Sorry it's taken me a little while to respond, I was away over Christmas and New Year!

Any other feedback/ suggestions/ criticism?
why dont you go to northern Ireland and use their culture to push a brand identity. They're closer...I'm sure they will be friendly.
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Old 01-12-2016, 11:13 AM   #6
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First, some examples of what happens when the dominant culture exercises colonial privilege and helps themselves:

Misappropriation and the Case of the Yellow Crotch

Random Appropriation of the Day:Totem Cups

Lululemon Beer Can w/ Totem Pole Image


In the way of a disclaimer: I am not from a N.W. coast nation. My people live about as far from any ocean as you can get in North America. I speak from my experience seeing my people's intellectual property raided and living in the Southwest, seeing Pueblo, Navajo and Apache arts appropriated.

In Native cultures, the spiritual is NEVER absent. There is a transcendent dimension to stories, art, and the act of creating both. Also in oral tradition cultures the rules defining IP and regulating its transfer and diffusion are different than in those based on English Common Law. In my experience the ideas of ownership of intangibles like stories, imagery, and the teaching and power that may accompany them are stronger and more far reaching, than those in American patent law.

Control of Native IP is part of the whole colonial paradigm. By virtue of conquest and vastly different worldviews, we have been disempowered from protection our own IP. Our objections arise from moral and legal frameworks which often have little overlap with those of dominant culture. Our burden's of proof are different; our ideas of disclosure.... The list goes on.

This is just one more insult. After losing our lands, our lives, our languages, our traditional economies, our intact family structures, our traditional means of child rearing and education, now the dominant culture comes for our intellectual property. This use may seem respectful, beneficent even -- after all, as we of all people are told whenever we refuse to share, we all live on one planet. But to us, it may be one step too far; one last thing we are unwilling to share.

But, hey, what do I know? As I said, I'm not from a N.W. coast nation. I'm just a fat old-lady, former college chemistry teacher turned industrial chemist. You want a real opinion contact the Cultural Preservation Officers of any of these folks below (by no means an exhaustive list):

Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska

Haida Nation of Canada

Kwakiutl District Council, BC
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Old 01-12-2016, 03:52 PM   #7
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As a Scot, I would advise you to stick to your British culture.
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Old 01-28-2016, 11:45 AM   #8
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Thanks

Hi everyone,

Thanks for all the feedback, really appreciate it. I had no idea there were so many issues with misappropriation of Native American IP. Some really interesting articles and I now understand why you're community is very careful about what is endorsed.

I'll have a rethink and see what else I can come up with.

All the best,

Ian
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