For the first time in over two decades, the Spokane Indians have incorporated Native American imagery into their logo.
On Wednesday afternoon, Spokane unveiled its new logo at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. The team's updated look marks a new direction for the enduring franchise.
And to understand the significance of the Indians' decision, a bit of historical perspective is in order.
The city of Spokane got its name in 1883, in recognition of the Native American tribe that had lived in the area for thousands of years. Just 20 years later, the Spokane Indians baseball team came into existence. The team, now a member of the Class A Short-Season Northwest League, has been an integral part of the community for over 100 years.
For the past two decades, the Indians had refrained from using Native American imagery in their logo, mascot and overall team imagery. This policy, which stemmed from the club's desire to not perpetuate crude stereotypes of Native American people and culture, was rooted in good intentions. However, it also resulted in a strange disconnect as the Indians name and logo failed to complement one another.
This is no longer the case. The team's new primary logo features two eagle feathers, a sacred symbol of Spokane tribal culture. The hat design, which harkens back to the club's look during the 1960s and early 70s, features a capital "S" with an eagle feather accent. An alternate logo was also unveiled with the words "Spokane Indians Baseball Club" written in the Spokane tribal language of Salish.
Far from being an exploitative attempt to capitalize on another culture, the Indians' new logo represents an unprecedented partnership. The team approached the Spokane Tribal Council and created the new logo only after extensive discussions with the tribe's Culture Committee.
"In the past, we had received compliments from the tribe for being respectful and not using offensive images," Spokane Indians president Andrew Billig said. "But now, as opposed to respect through exclusion, we can convey an even greater respect by honoring the Spokane tribe's heritage directly. This would not have moved forward without total support for the idea, not just from the Spokane tribe but from the four other tribes who reside in this area as well."
Plan B Branding, an "ideas company" that works primarily with Minor League teams, played a key role in developing the logo.
"The team wanted to change the logo regardless, and the tribe was very interested in having input in the process," Plan B's Jason Klein said. "So we drove up to the reservation and had a conversation with members of the tribe about colors, icons, symbols and values. It was our goal to create a logo that reflected the culture of the tribe as well as the 104-year history of the team."
The local tribe feels that the Indians' new logo has resulted in a "win-win situation."
"The Spokane tribal council believes the Spokane Indians baseball management team is taking a lead role in respecting the Tribe's native culture and people by collaborating in the design of their new logo," the Spokane tribal council wrote in a press release. "The Spokane Tribe and Culture Committee hope other Indian-named organizations across the country keep this ground-breaking concept in mind with their own neighboring Indian tribes."
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com.