Indigenous People Demonstrate at Super Bowl Demanding Kansas City Drop its Team Name ‘Chiefs’
Glendale, AZ – On Sunday, Feb. 12, a group of nearly 100 people marched to one of the entrances of State Farm Stadium, where Super Bowl LVII was hosted, to demand that the Kansas City professional football team drop its team name, the Chiefs, and its associated imagery and behavior.
The protest was organized by Arizona to Rally Against Native Mascots, and its aim is to raise awareness of the harmful effects that race-based mascots have on Indigenous people and culture in Arizona and beyond. Participants from Kansas City flew to Arizona to protest in collaboration with local organizers to voice their disapproval in the use of what some say is not only racism, but cultural appropriation.
“Now that they’re [Kansas City] fans are here, we have to let them know who we are as Indigenous people and we will not be mocked,” said Arizona to Rally Against Native Mascots Co-founder Amanda Blackhorse at Sunday’s rally. “Our culture is not for sale. We must end cultural appropriation.”
Indigenous people called for the Chiefs to drop their name, logo and their trademark “tomahawk chop” where fans make a chopping-hand gesture mimicking the American Indian tomahawk.
“They need to do away with their name, their imagery, with their ‘tomahawk chop’, all of it needs to go,” Blackhorse said. “There is no right way to mascot Native people and that is what our message is about today.”
In 2015, Blackhorse, who’s Diné, led a legal suit with four other Indigenous plaintiffs against Pro-Football, Inc. seeking to cancel the trademark for the former Washington, D.C. football team, which was eventually changed in 2020 to the Commanders. Since it changed its name in 2020, the Washington football team retired its mascot, the team banned headdresses, face paint, and changed their mascot image.
The largest protest in American sports history was in Minneapolis, in 2014, when the Minnesota Vikings hosted the former Washington “Redskins.” More than 4,000 people protested Washington’s team name, where many Indigenous people have said its former name was a racial slur. Another large protest occurred in 2019 when the Washington football team came back to Minneapolis to play the Vikings.
During this year’s Super Bowl Sunday, the protest marched through Glendale’s Westgate Entertainment District, where State Farm Stadium is located, and shouted: “Stop the Chop! Change the Name!” Many bystanders mocked the demonstrators, while some honked car horns with approval.
“We are people! We are not caricatures!” shouted many of the participants of Sunday’s demonstration.
Rhonda LeValdo, faculty at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, wrote an op-ed in Rolling Stone on Sunday voicing the history of the Kansas community opposing the use of the Chiefs name.
“We want to make people aware of how this issue affects Native people that live in Kansas City,” said Rhonda LeValdo, an Acoma Pueblo tribal citizen, to Unicorn Riot. “They have to deal with this for one day, but we have to deal with this every day of our lives.
The demonstration was met with many unruly fans, where some taunted demonstrators with a headdress and mimicked the “tomahawk chop.”
The movement to change race based mascots has been decades in the making, with former teams such as the Cleveland “Indians” and the Washington “Redskins” opting to retire their names out of continued pressure by advocacy organizations. The National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s oldest and most representative American Indian organization, has passed resolutions supporting the change.
The American Psychological Association passed a resolution in 2005 asking for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations. The organization has officially said, the use of American Indian race based mascots “shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, including the particularly harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.”
There are several professional sports teams that still use American Indian race based mascots: the Chicago Blackhawks, Kansas City Chiefs, and the Atlanta Braves. There are some universities in NCAA Division I college athletic leagues that continue to use race based mascots including the Florida State Seminoles. Others such as the University of North Dakota and its use of the “Fighting Sioux” were pressured for years to retire its name, which was eventually done in 2012.
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