Editorial – Retiring symbol matters

Normally painting a water tower would not be a contentious issue. But, this is South Dundas where repainting the Iroquois water tower has turned into just that.

Some residents are strongly supportive of returning the Indigenous “chief” logo to the Iroquois tower. In covering this issue, The Leader contacted a number of chiefs who serve on the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. So far, no response has been received from that governing body, which is understandable. That government might not want to comment on the affairs of another government.

Cultural appropriation, the adoption of elements of one culture/identity by members of another culture/identity, becomes controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged or minority cultures. In our view, a community/municipality using a symbol that does not belong to them is highly inappropriate. This is not 1858, 1900, or even 1980. Using an Indigenous symbol as a representative logo of a non-Indigenous community is the textbook definition of cultural appropriation/misappropriation.

The inappropriate use of Indigenous symbols in Iroquois has been an unfortunate long standing tradition. Iroquois Point was nicknamed Rockaway Point, which even history books from 1900 say was the insulting mispronunciation or slang of the word Iroquois. The Indigenous chief symbol that emblazons the water tower has been the village’s logo for decades. The village’s newspaper was named The Chieftain. According to area historians, the “chief” logo used by Iroquois is not even accurate for the Mohawk people of this region. The use of Indigenous symbology in the village is akin to the naming of professional sports teams in Washington, Atlanta, Cleveland, and thousands of other inappropriate uses. The village name – Iroquois – is an appropriate nod to this community’s origins. The symbol of cultural appropriation, or rather misappropriation, is completely unnecessary.

Recently, McGill University in Montréal retired its university sports team’s name under pressure from its student union to do better. Washington’s NFL team is currently looking for a new name, Cleveland has retired its offensive mascot, and Atlanta has put a stop to its offensive arm gesture at ball games. All are positive steps.

In its final report in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada said that governments and Canadians from all walks of life are responsible for taking action on reconciliation in “concrete ways” and that “reconciliation begins with each and every one of us.” In that spirit, Iroquois and South Dundas as a whole should strive to do better and retire the Indigenous symbol. Retiring the symbol is the most respectful and appropriate action. To do anything less broadcasts the wrong message about Iroquois, and South Dundas, to anyone who sees that water tower.

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