First Nations mask inspired original Seahawks logo

SEATTLE — At every Seahawks game, you’ll see him.

“Captain Seahawk” is an airline pilot and a super fan, traveling with the team and raising money for charity.

“People will mainly remember me from the green dreadlocks but I hope eventually they start looking at the headdress,” he said.

His real name is Wallace Watts, and he wears the headdress in honor of his people, the Kwakwaka’wakw of British Columbia.

“Our culture was almost decimated. And it’s a way for me to spread the word to literally thousands and millions of people,” Watts said.

For nearly seventy years, Canada outlawed First Nations dances, even jailing Watts’ grandfather.

The headdress he wears is inspired by the apple boxes people used covertly, so they could be burned before police arrived.

“I honor the thousands of headdresses that were burned,” he said.

And there’s an even deeper connection between the Seahawks and Watts’ community in B.C — the team’s first logo was inspired by a Kwakwaka’wakw mask.

“As a fan of the Seahawks it was pretty exciting,” said Andy Everson, a Kwakwaka’wakw artist who has created work inspired by the Hawks.

In 2014, he danced at Seattle’s Burke Museum, when the mask went on temporary display.

“It hasn’t made its way all the way to its home, but we felt it was important to have a couple Kwakwaka’wakw people there to welcome the mask,” he said.

The mask dates to the late 19th century, when many were confiscated.

It ended up at a museum in Maine.

When researchers pieced together how a photo of the mask in a book on Northwest Native art inspired the original Seahawks logo, fans raised money to bring it to Seattle for a few months.

The mask is no longer on display at the Burke.

It’s called a transformation mask, which is used to reveal how ancestors arrived as birds.

“We like to demonstrate that in our potlatch ceremony by having these masks that start out as a bird and open up to reveal the human inside.”

The Seahawks’ connection to indigenous culture is largely celebrated, in contrast to the derogatory name Washington, D.C.’s football team held for decades.

“Cultural appropriation can be complicated, there’s a huge spectrum,” said Katie Bunn-Marcuse, the Burke Museum’s curator of Northwest Native Art.

She said violations of cultural and artistic rights are a major problem.

Bunn-Marcuse held up a Seahawks-inspired T-shirt by Native American artist Shaun Peterson.

“Unfortunately, these images are exactly the kind of thing, and this one in particular, that get ripped off by others and produced without the artist’s permission.”

While the Seahawks have built positive connections with Northwest tribes, the way their first logo came about would not meet current standards.

In 1975, a California company did the design.

“It’s important to hire indigenous artists to do those designs now,” Bunn-Marcuse said.

And the inspiration came not from a Seattle-area Coast Salish tribe, but from Canada.

Still, the team’s connection to Native art is a point of pride, especially for Captain Seahawk.

“To me, it’s a family crest.”