Our Logo Story
Our Logo Story: A Wampum Learning Journey
Learning is a lifelong journey that takes people many places during their lifetimes. Western University is fortunate to be one of those places to which many Indigenous students come to learn, and to which they often bring their Indigeneity and Indigenous ways of knowing. The Indigenous Initiatives logo and wampum learning journey began with Indigenous students, who continue to be our greatest teachers and leaders in the movement to decolonize and Indigenize the academy.
During their first year at Western, Mishiikenh Nini (Jason George), from Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and Katsistyahawi (Lori George), from Oneida Nation of the Thames, experienced immense loss. Mishiikenh Nini, lost both parents, and Katsistyahawi lost her mother. In addition to all the loss the couple was also grappling with being Indigenous in the academy. “When are we going to hear our voices in the academy?” they wondered; “When are we going to feel at home in this place?”
During this time, they heard Western’s Indigenous Student Centre (ISC) was planning to create a graphic to represent the Centre, a logo that would incorporate elements signifying Indigenous peoples and Indigenous ways of knowing. The ISC and Western’s Indigenous Studies program then collaboratively established two work-study positions and began a search for graphic designers. Katsityahawi and Mishiikenh Nini enthusiastically took up the positions.
While struggling with their losses, the stress of school work, and raising three children, Mishiikenh Nini and Katsitsyahawi began to plan the logo. The logo was initially going in a completely different direction, after one night Katsitsyahawi dreamt about a wampum belt. The wampum belt was in Indigenous Services and everyone was gathering around it. Katsitsyahawi felt how powerful this belt was in bringing everyone together and how much they all cared for one another. She awoke from the dream wondering what it all meant and immediately told Mishikenh Nini about it. Through the dream, Katsitsyahawi was inspired to make the wampum a reality.
The new ISC graphic design contains a pine tree to represent the Great Tree of Peace, a symbol of unity held strong by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The pine tree grows from the top of a turtle shell. (The turtle is a significant figure in many Indigenous creation stories, and Turtle Island is the common name for North America among most Indigenous peoples.) From the base of the pine tree, four strong roots corresponding to the four sacred cardinal directions reach out across the shell. The needles of the pine tree grow in clusters symbolizing the unity of all Indigenous Nations and reminding humans that we are stronger together. While Indigenous students at Western hail from many different Nations across Turtle Island, the design reminds us of common teachings embodying unity and representing the generosity of the turtle.
The wampum design embodies deep meaning about relationships and responsibilities to each other, and the symbolism alludes to other wampum that came before it. In this wampum, two humans are joined by eight beads running between them. The human on the left represents the Indigenous Initiatives team (formerly the Indigenous Student Centre) and the human on the right represents Indigenous students. The humans are joined by eight beads representing the eight guiding principles for the Centre: academic excellence, collaboration, balance, diversity, equity and inclusion, interconnection, personal and cultural identity, and respect. There is purposely one bead out of place to remind us that mistakes are part of learning.
Today, the new Office of Indigenous Initiatives uses Katsitsyahawi’s and Mishiikenh Nini’s graphic design as its logo. Even though Katsitsyahawi and Mishiikenh Nini have long since graduated, a tradition of weaving a replica of the wampum belt together in community lives on in practice every year. Indigenous ways of doing are reflective of what Mishiikenh Nini always maintained was the intention of creating the wampum design—that it should take on a life of it’s own. “If the wampum chooses to live on,” Mishiikenh Nini said, “that’s its purpose; it’s there for the people.”
What are Wampum?
Wampum belts are long-standing traditions among many Indigenous Nations across Turtle Island. They are created to codify relationships, mark treaty agreements, and honour spirits. Many agreements between early settlers and Indigenous peoples were formed with wampum first, and only documented on paper later. As part of wampum practices, purple and white shells from the quahog, a large clam that lives along the Atlantic coast, are harvested and made into beads which are later woven into belts with patterns and shapes that tell stories that are part of long-standing oral traditions. Within academic institutions, knowledge tends to be written down, documented in books and publications. But among the Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee, wampum belts carry and pass on knowledge in different ways. The belts act as mnemonic devices that help people and communities remember and retell important teachings and relationships. Unfortunately, like many Indigenous languages and ways of knowing, wampum traditions have been misunderstood and diminished under the colonial gaze. Indigenous knowledge keepers, however, have struggled to maintain wampum traditions, and wampum knowledge and practices are being actively reclaimed by many Indigenous people today as part of a larger decolonial movement.
Respecting & Protecting Indigenous Knowledges
The wampum design is etched permanently into the Indigenous Initiatives’ logo. Over the years, the practice of actually weaving wampum belt replicas has also grown. Having our own wampum has encouraged us to learn about wampum and oral histories, and has sparked curiosity about working with Indigenous Knowledge Holders. Every year, Indigenous Initiatives strives to incorporate wampum teachings into our learning and to create replicas of various wampum belts, including our own, with glass beads. We have learned that the relational act of gathering, weaving, and remembering wampum teachings and responsibilities reinforces our kinship with each other and the land. We are grateful for this gift.