Native Americans renew protests of Kansas City Chiefs mascot

Feb 8, 2023, 7:07 PM | Updated: Feb 9, 2023, 8:04 pm

Meldon Fulwilder speaks during a news conference by Native American advocacy groups, Thursday, Feb....

Meldon Fulwilder speaks during a news conference by Native American advocacy groups, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in Phoenix. The groups are calling for the NFL football team Kansas City Chiefs to drop their name, logo and their trademark “war chant” where fans make a chopping-hand gesture mimicking the Native American tomahawk. They play to demonstrate outside State Farm Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale during the Super Bowl 57 NFL football game. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs are the reason Rhonda LeValdo is in Arizona for the Super Bowl. But she won’t be here to watch the game.

LeValdo and other Native Americans will be pushing again for the Chiefs to abandon the team’s name, mascot and fan-driven “tomahawk chop.” It’s the same goal they had in 2021 when the Chiefs were vying for a second-consecutive Super Bowl win in Tampa, Florida.

“People are trying to be really positive about Kansas City and what it does and how like ‘Yes, sports binds us all together,'” LeValdo, founder of the Kansas City-based Indigenous activist group Not In Our Honor, said at a news conference Thursday. “It’s not bringing our people into this celebration together. Really, it’s hurting us more because now it’s the bigger spotlight where you’re seeing this all over the world.”

LeValdo will be joined by others from Kansas City and tribes in Arizona to demonstrate outside State Farm Stadium in Glendale. The president of the Kansas City franchise says he respects their right to protest.

Fights against the appropriation of tribal cultures and images have endured for decades — not just with the Chiefs. Native Americans say using iconography and words with Native connotations demeans them and perpetuates racist stereotypes.

“The anti-Native mascot movement has always been about the betterment of our Native people, not hatred towards others who are football fans,” said Amanda Blackhorse, who is Diné. “We want to live in a world where our children can attend school and feel included and not met with reenactments of fake war dances on the football field.”

Some major sports teams have countered that the mascots are meant to honor and respect the tribes. But the racial reckoning and protests of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd compelled some franchises to do soul-searching.

The Cleveland Indians baseball team officially changed to the Guardians in November 2021. The team also axed Chief Wahoo, a logo that was a caricature of a Native American.

A significant victory came when Washington dropped the name “Redskins, ” which is seen as a racial slur, and the logo after nearly nine decades. The team later became the Commanders.

Chiefs President Mark Donovan gave no indication there is room for change.

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

The Super Bowl is playing out in a state that’s home to 22 Native American tribes who collectively oversee about a quarter of the land base. The NFL has been emphasizing its collaborations with Native and Indigenous people based in Arizona.

The Chiefs recently highlighted its long snapper James Winchester, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and center Creed Humphrey, who is from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma.

Lucinda Hinojos, who was born in Glendale and is of Apache and Yaqui descent, became the first Native and Chicana artist to partner with the NFL. Her painting is featured on all Super Bowl tickets and throughout the NFL Experience.

Colin Denny, a University of Arizona researcher and a member of the Navajo Nation, will perform “America the Beautiful” during the game’s pre-show. Denny, who is deaf, will utilize both American Sign Language and North American Indian Sign Language.

The Chiefs have made efforts to address concerns about cultural insensitivities going back a decade but always stop short of altering the team name or fan-favorite gestures and chants. In 2013, the team created the American Indian Community Working Group, which has Native Americans serving as advisers to the team on promoting tribal cultures.

“I’m going to them and saying, ‘What do you think about this? How does this make you feel?'” Donovan said. “I’m really proud of the things we’ve done and the people we’ve worked with.”

This led to invitations for Cheyenne spiritual and ceremonial leaders to participate at some games. In 2020, the Chiefs banned fans from donning headdresses, war paint and clothing at Arrowhead Stadium.

The team also changed the “tomahawk chop” with cheerleaders using a closed fist instead of an open palm — a move that Native American organizations in Kansas City called “laughable.”

The Kansas City team started as the Dallas Texans. When the franchise moved to Kansas City in 1963, it became the Chiefs.

Mayor H. Roe Bartle got permission from the Northern Arapaho at the time, and the team recently documented tribal officials confirming it, Donovan said.

“We haven’t released it yet. We are waiting for the right timing to tell the story right,” Donovan said.

LeValdo, who is friends with a former Northern Arapaho leader, called that assertion “fake.”

She said Native organizers won’t give up on trying to rid major sports of offensive mascots, names and imagery.

“There are young people that come with us as well,” said LeValdo, of Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. “We’re looking forward to the next generation that’s going to carry that. There’s always going to be Native people who are against it. It’s not going to stop.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

1 year ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

1 year ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

1 year ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

1 year ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

1 year ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

1 year ago

Native Americans renew protests of Kansas City Chiefs mascot