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NO LOGO! Visual sovereignty and the Washington Redsk*ns debate

Abstract

The paper draws upon the controversy over the use of indigenous-related sports emblems that has recently sparked a series of protests across the United States against the Washington Redsk*ns name and imagery. It focuses on the visual aspect of the debate, tracing the white-supremacist foundations of the Washington team’s insignia to the institutional construction of Native identity through popular Indian head pennies, gold coins, and buffalo nickels in the period between 1859 and 1938. Pointing at the seemingly paradoxical discrepancy between the minted messages and the systematic political, legal, and military invasion on American Indian sovereignty in that period, it proceeds to deconstruct the paradox by exposing the numismatic pictorial language as a manifestation of the same ideological project and the configurations of power that have remained unchanged to this day. The continued circulation of indigenous-based iconography in the contemporary American context shows that the same cultural imagination continues to serve not only as a powerful rationale for European America’s historical, national, and political narrative but also as a form of “anti-conquest” that both obscures and enacts the established formulas of colonial domination and control. Observing the alterations of the Washington Redsk*ns logo design across some of the key socio-historical moments of the second half of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century, the analysis explores how various forms of national anxiety transcend into identity through the politics of representation. In that light, it regards recent activism against mass-mediated symbolization of indigenous identity as an important arena in which centuries-old hegemonic discourses are contested against new venues of self-determination and internal decolonization.

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Notes

  1. As Michel Foucault (1971) explains, the discursive dominance is a manifestation of sorts of the real, institutionalized relations of power, whose practices produce new objects—the dominated, the subaltern, the marginalized, the Others. In that vein, in his study Barbed Wire: A Political History, French author and philosopher Olivier Razac argues that the disappearance of the frontier, open range cowboys, and “free Natives” turned the American West into a political myth that reflected a sense of loss of a society whose distinctive identity was grounded in conquest and encounter with the unknown (2000, p. 29).

  2. This paper was completed in June, 2015, a few weeks before the Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc. case was decided in favor of the plaintiffs and the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision to cancel the Washington Redsk*ns trademarks was affirmed.

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Correspondence to Sanja Runtić.

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Runtić, S., Pejić, L. NO LOGO! Visual sovereignty and the Washington Redsk*ns debate. Neohelicon 44, 99–113 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11059-017-0369-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11059-017-0369-x

Keywords

  • Washington Redsk*ns
  • Native American mascots
  • Indigenous representation
  • Visual sovereignty
  • Activism
  • Decolonization