Native Americans renew protests against Kansas City Chiefs mascot

PHOENIX (AP) — A coalition of Native American groups that have lobbied for the Kansas City Chiefs to ditch their mascot, logo and fan-driven “tomahawk chop,” said Thursday the team’s return to the Super Bowl has them more than they have ever encouraged.

“People are trying to be really positive about Kansas City and what it’s doing and like, ‘Yeah, sports unites us all,'” Rhonda LeValdo, founder of Kansas City-based indigenous activist group Not In Our Honor, said at a news conference. “It doesn’t bring our people together for this celebration. Really, it hurts us more because now it’s the bigger spotlight where you see that around the world.

LeValdo was part of a group that picketed outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. in 2021 as the Chiefs battled for a second straight Super Bowl win. Now that the Chiefs are returning to Arizona for Big Game Sunday, she will be back there along with other protesters from Kansas City and various Arizona tribes.

David Garcia speaks during a press conference held by Native American advocacy groups Thursday, February 9, 2023, in Phoenix. The groups are calling on the NFL football team’s Kansas City Chiefs to drop its name, logo and trademark “war chant,” in which fans make a chopping hand gesture that mimics the Native American tomahawk. They are playing to demonstrate during the Super Bowl 57 NFL football game in front of State Farm Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. (AP Photo/Rick Scutteri)

Arizona to Rally Against Native mascot leads a demonstration outside State Farm Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.

Battles against the appropriation of tribal cultures and images have been fought for decades — not just with the Chiefs, but with multiple teams across different sports. Native Americans say the use of iconography and words with Native American connotations demeans them and perpetuates racial stereotypes.

Backers have felt encouraged in recent years. Many teams previously countered that the mascots should show respect to the tribes. But racial reckoning and the 2020 protests following the killing of George Floyd forced some franchises to search their souls. The Cleveland Indians baseball team officialswitched to the guardsin November 2021. The team also dropped Chief Wahoo, a logo that was a caricature of an Indian American.

It was a year ago this month that the Washington Football Team wasanointed the commanders.The move came after 18 months of pressure to drop the Redskins, which was seen as a racial slur.

Chiefs President Mark Donovan gave no indication that there was room for change. He told The Associated Press on Thursday that he respects the right of those opposed to the mascot to demonstrate.

“We also respect that we need to continue to educate and raise awareness about Native American culture and the things we do to celebrate, that in the last seven years we’ve done — I think — more than any other team, to raise awareness and keep educating ourselves,” said Donovan.

The Chiefs have struggled to address concerns about cultural insensitivities going back a decade, but they always stop by changing their name or fan-favorite gestures and chants. In 2013, the team formed the American Indian Community Working Group, where Native Americans serve as advisors to the team in promoting the region’s cultures and tribes.

“That was crucial to give us orientation. We don’t make proclamations and decisions,” Donovan said. “I go up to them and say, ‘What do you think about this? How does that make you feel?’ I’m really proud of the things we’ve done and the people we’ve worked with.”

This led toInvitations for Cheyenne Spiritual and Ceremonial Leadersparticipate in some games. It wasn’t until 2020 — when the Washington team first decided to change its name — that the Chiefs enacted a ban on fans wearing tribal headgear, war paint and clothing at Arrowhead Stadium.

They also changed the “chop” tomahawk with cheerleaders using a closed fist instead of an open palm. Native American organizations in Kansas City called the changes “ridiculous” at the time.

The franchise has also made a point of participating in American Indian Heritage Month, which occurs in November. Most recently, they released a video featuring long snapper James Winchester, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and center Creed Humphrey, who hails from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

This Super Bowl protest is taking place in a state where a quarter of the land is owned by Native Americans. The NFL has emphasized its collaboration with Native Americans and Native Americans in Arizona.

Lucinda Hinojos, a Glendale native of Apache and Yaqui descent, became the first Native American and Chicana artist to work with the NFL. Her painting will be featured on all Super Bowl tickets and throughout the NFL experience. Colin Denny, a University of Arizona researcher and member of the Navajo Nation, was chosen to perform “America the Beautiful” during the game’s pre-show. Denny, who is deaf, will use both American Sign Language and the North American Native American Sign Language.

Anyone hoping that homegrown organizers will eventually give up on these protests will be disappointed, LeValdo said.

“Young people come to us too,” she says. “We look forward to the next generation wearing this. There will always be natives who oppose it. It won’t stop.”

By TERRY TANG and DAVE SKRETTA, Associated Press Native Americans renew protests against Kansas City Chiefs mascot

Sarah Y. Kim

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