ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based juice purveyor Monfefo appears to have used the Zia symbol — an image that originates with New Mexico’s Zia Pueblo — without the tribe’s permission.
Monfefo’s logo consists of what resembles the sun-like Zia symbol emblazoned with a pyramid and the letter “M.” Encircling the image are the words “Monfefo” and “Brooklyn, New York.” The logo appears on the company’s beverage packaging, website and social media accounts.
The Zia consider the symbol to be sacred, and in 2014 issued a resolution asking commercial entities to stop using the image without permission. Joe Little, general counsel for the tribe, said he is not aware of a request from Monfefo to use the symbol.
“Typically, we’re fine if they don’t use it in a disrespectful way, but we do ask for a small donation to our education fund,” said Little.
He said there is currently no set amount for the donation, though the Zia may change that in the future.
Neither Monfefo nor Rossana Nealis, the New York-based graphic designer who includes the logo in her online portfolio, have responded to multiple requests for comment.
The symbol has been the source of multiple scuffles in recent years between the Pueblo and what it claims are unauthorized users of its imagery: rock bands, athletic departments and portable toilets among them. In 2000, the Zia asked the New Mexico Legislature to pay the tribe $74 million for appropriation of the symbol on the state’s flag and license plates, among other usages. The Legislature didn’t award the Zia any money, though a 2012 memorial later acknowledged that the state had appropriated the symbol without permission, including on the state’s flag beginning in 1925.
The Native American community has long decried the legal obstacles that stand in the way of protecting their symbols. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office maintains a database of Native American Tribal insignia, a database that is used primarily to prevent others from filing trademark applications for the imagery. But taking legal action against those who use the symbols typically falls to the tribes themselves, few of whom have the resources to do so. The Zia Pueblo’s population was 737 as of 2010.
Monfefo’s website says the company has a partnership with Urban Outfitters, which has run afoul of tribal rules. In November 2016, the retailer settled with the Navajo Nation for an undisclosed amount after it offered a line that included items like “Navajo hipster panties.”
As for the Zia, the tribe currently fields about four to five requests a month for usage of the symbol — everything from pet houses to political campaigns, according to Little — and is considering instituting a more formal process for granting their permission. Little said he hopes they hear from Monfefo soon, though the tribe won’t necessarily pursue legal action.
“We’re not going to try to run them down,” said Little.