With the impending football spectacular this Sunday featuring the Kansas City Chiefs, a collective of Native American activists is reigniting their fervor to have the team reconsider its name, mascot, and the fan-favored ‘tomahawk chop’ ritual.
Rhonda LeValdo, an ardent activist working diligently to curtail the employment of Native American symbolism and allusions within the sports world, is at the forefront of this campaign. She is the originator of a Kansas City-based initiative dubbed Not In Our Honor. LeValdo, along with a legion of Indigenous advocates have made their way to Las Vegas—the locale of Super Bowl LVIII—to stage a protest, and petition the Chiefs to revise their nickname, discard their emblem, and put an end to game customs that they classify as disrespectful.
A mirroring protest had been organized a couple of years prior; it occurred outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, just before the commencement of Super Bowl LV.
Unfortunately, for the proponents of the team, the Kansas City Chiefs suffered a defeat at that Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were led to victory by Tom Brady.
‘I’ve dedicated so much of my personal resources and energy for this cause. I earnestly hold onto the hope that our children would not have to weather such challenges,’ LeValdo expressed.
LeValdo, of the Acoma Pueblo tribe, has resided in the vicinity of Kansas City for more than twenty years.
To counter the arguments presented by these protests, some sports franchises have stated that their mascots are symbols of honor and appreciation towards the tribes.
Significant strides have been made amidst these protests. Rewinding to November of 2021, the Cleveland Indians, a respected baseball team, rechristened themselves to the Guardians, bidding farewell to their Chief Wahoo Mascot.
In the wake of the tragic and unnecessary police-related death of George Floyd in 2020 based in Minneapolis, it pushed the Washington NFL team to relinquish the ‘Redskins’ from their name. The name was viewed by numerous Native American factions and the general public as racially insensitive. Subsequently, after a season being referred to as the Washington Football, the team adopted the name Commanders in February 2022.
Starting from 2020, Arrowhead Stadium issued a restriction on fans from adorning headdresses or face paint that mimic or appropriate Native American culture, however, some still find a way.
The motto ‘End Racism’ was boldly displayed in the end zone and similarly themed decals were affixed to the players’ helmets, as well the names of African Americans who were tragically killed in the line of police duty.
The Chiefs chose to retire their mascot ‘Warpaint’ in the year 2021.
However, the name of the team as well as the arrowhead logo still persists to this day. Alongside that, the ‘tomahawk chop’, a ritualistic cheer where fans chant and move their forearm repeatedly in an up and down motion remains a distinctive part of the Chiefs’ games.
The Chiefs argue that the origin of the team’s name can be traced back to Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, who held the nickname, ‘The Chief’. His significant contribution in the early 60s was instrumental in establishing the franchise in the city.
Indeed, the franchise acknowledges their attempts in recent years to expunge offensive imagery. Chiefs’ president, Mark Donovan, stated before Super Bowl LVII in Arizona that ‘we’ve done more over the last seven years, I think, than any other team to raise awareness and educate ourselves.’
Beginning in 2014 the Chiefs instituted the American Indian Community Working Group that consisted of a group of Native Americans who offer counsel to the team. These representatives have made their presence felt at Chiefs home games ever since, contributing to the team’s efforts to connect with the community and becoming a part of the franchise’s public face.
During the games, LeValdo and a host of other indigenous activists maintain their presence outside Arrowhead carrying placards with the messages ‘Stop the Chop’ and ‘This Does Not Honor Us’.
With emotions running high, LeValdo has stated that the feeling fuelling her activism is indeed rooted not within her own experiences, but to the oppression, brutal killings, and displacement of her ancestors. This, she says, has an ongoing effect on her community.
‘We weren’t even allowed to be Native American. We weren’t allowed to practice our culture. We weren’t allowed to wear our clothes,’ she said. ‘But it’s OK for Kansas City fans to bang a drum, to wear a headdress and then to act like they’re honoring us? That doesn’t make sense.’
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