The Chilocco Indian Agricultural School basketball team in 1909.

Swastika Day Organizers Point to Symbol's Native Origins


Believers in a UFO cult are trying to rehabilitate the swastika, a symbol closely tied to Nazi Germany, and part of their campaign involves publicizing its pre-Nazi history. Saturday, June 23, was "World Swastika Rehabilitation Day," as declared by the Raelians, and one eye-catching tactic the group employed was flying a plane over the Jersey Shore trailing a pro-swastika banner. The banner bore the message (expressed in symbols) "swastika = peace + love," plus the URL and an image of a swastika within a Star of David—the official Raelian symbol. The banner drew mostly negative reactions from beachgoers and Manhattanites who saw it. "It got the attention, so it was a success," said organizer Thomas Kaenzig, according to the Huffington Post.

Pro Swastika Banner by Raelians

For the Raelians, a group that actively tries to cultivate its brand and is known for publicity stunts, divorcing the swastika from Nazism is a monumental but necessary PR task—you don't want to be mistaken for neo-Nazis when trying to spread the message your founder received from the extraterrestrial scientists who designed the Earth and life on it. But we don't need to get into Raelian mythology here—you're free to visit if you like. However, the pro-swastika site the Raelians have set up seeks to make its case with images of swastikas that predate the rise of the Nazis, many of which are tied to such tribes as the Navajo and Hopi. The visual evidence on display isn't sourced in any way; we've assembled below some similar images here with some backup when possible. There is no doubt that the swastika is an ancient symbol that had positive connotations, in Native cultures and others. Whether the Raelians—or someone considered less, well, nutty—can ever divorce it from the powerful Nazi association remains to be seen. For Natives of Navajo or Hopi heritage, there is an interesting additional question: If the swastika is a legitimate and benevolent symbol from your tribal culture, would you be—or are you—comfortable having one in your living room?

1. A swastika quilt from 1880-90, presumed Native American origin (no tribe given), from the Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center, in Carson City, Nevada:

Swastika Quilt

2. A rug identified as Navajo in origin, using the "whirling log" symbol, as the swastika is sometimes called in the context of Indian crafts, from

Navajo Whirling Log rug

3. Here, from the blog Arizona 1912-2012, an image of Arizona road signs featuring an arrowhead/swastika logo:

Arizona Road Signs with Swastikas

4. And from the same blog, a postcard from 1943 captioned "Navajos renounce their swastika design after U.S. declares war":

Navajos Renounce their Swastika Design, 1943

5. The city of Albuquerque's website has a page dedicated to explaining images such as this one, a swastika on the wall of the KiMo theater:

Kimo Theater Swastika

6. The youth association Campfire Girls drew on American Indian traditions and worldview, and went so far as to outfit participants in a "ceremonial gown" based on regalia. This widely circulated photo is purported to be of future First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier (Kennedy) in her Campfire Girl gown:

Jacqueline Bouvier Campfire Girl swastika

7. The illustration on this postcard is dated 1907; the text identifies the swastika as a "lucky cross" used by Navajo, Pima and Apache Indians (from collectibles website CardCow).

Swastika postcard

8. Westerners who visit Asia are often puzzled by the prevalence of swastikas in religious art; it's a common symbol in Hindu art and, in fact, many statues of Buddha depict him with a swastika on his chest. This image comes from The Buddhist Blog:

Buddha with Swastika

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larrymoniz's picture
Submitted by larrymoniz on
As a child I learned that the Indian version of the crooked cross actually was the reverse of the Nazi symbol, as is depicted in some of the photos above. Unfortunately, most of the world fails to make that distinction and, rightly, views it as one of the most despicable symbols of a genocide practicing nation - Nazi Germany. Correct display of the Indian Symbol is the upper Navaho rug, the Albuquerque photo and that of Jacqueline Bouvier in her Campfire Girls regalia. Unfortunately, the Lucky Cross has become indistinguishable from the Nazi emblem and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Angie mcpherson's picture
Angie mcpherson
Submitted by Angie mcpherson on
I had no idea and appreciate the comment from larrymoniz. Very interesting observation!

Angie mcpherson's picture
Angie mcpherson
Submitted by Angie mcpherson on
I had no idea and appreciate the comment from larrymoniz. Very interesting observation!

tyrell begay's picture
tyrell begay
Submitted by tyrell begay on

Josema6's picture
Submitted by Josema6 on
yes, Larrymoniz. But it seems like this symbol was also used, earlier, the way Nazis did, as you can see from some images above. It was, it seems, also used both ways at the same time as you can see, for instance, on a rug. Maybe at some point both ways were considered equally right? (this would also explain why Navajos renounced it).