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FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2018, photo, Kansas City Chiefs fans chant and do the chop during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Chiefs have since barred headdresses and war paint amid the nationwide push for racial justice, but its effort to make its popular “war chant” more palatable is getting a fresh round of scrutiny from Native American groups as the team prepares to make its second straight Super Bowl appearance. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Kansas City faces pressure to eliminate the “tomahawk chop”

Kansas City is facing mounting pressure to abandon their tradition in which fans mimic the Native American tomahawk. In anticipation for the Super Bowl this Sunday, some local Native American advocacy groups have called attention to the “war chant” and urged the team not to employ it for the game. A coalition of these groups are erecting billboards around Kansas City in protest of the tomahawk chop and the team’s name itself. Additionally, a protest is planned for outside the Tampa Bay stadium where the game is being held and thousands of people have signed petitions in support of the activism. The group responsible for the planned protest is the Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality group based in St. Petersburg. Alicia Norris, co-founder, says that the chop is disrespectful and says that it portrays Native American people as “savages.”

The Chiefs have taken some steps to address the criticisms. In the fall, headdresses and war paint were banned, and the chop itself was slightly altered by way of having the cheerleaders use a closed instead of open fist to signal beating a drum. However, these changes are not being deemed nearly enough to address the issues raised by Native American groups and Norris says these alterations are the team’s way of attempting to “backtrack” and appease rather than really address concerns. “And that is a good start,” Norris said. “But the fans are still operating as if it is an indigenous-type atmosphere because you are still called the Chiefs. And you can still do this movement that looks like a tomahawk chop, but we are going to call it a drum beat instead. It is kind of silly.  Just change it.”

One longtime Chief’s fan and 15-year season ticket holder asserts that it is no different than any other team’s cheer, calling the tradition the “soul” and “lifeblood” of the team. He said that the chop and team name do not have any connection to Native Americans and that the origin of the name is instead an homage to former Mayor H. Roe Bartle who was known as “The Chief,” due to his time as a boy scout leader, who helped get the team to Kansas City. However, Vincent Schilling, associate editor of Indian Country Today and member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, says that this connection is not any better, nor does it have nothing to do with Native American culture. “He was called Chief because he played Indian and falsely taught Boy Scouts how to dress up as Native Americans,” said Schilling, referring to the scouting society Bartle started called the “Mic-O-say Tribe” which is still active today and continues to employ Native American dress and language. “Everyone dressed up like Indians going to those games, perpetuating a horrible cultural stereotype for decades.”

Kansas City Chief’s President Mark Donavan expressed that while the changes may not have been large, banning the face paint and headdresses from the stadium was a big step for him and his team. He said that opinions on the matter are going to differ on all sides about what is and is not acceptable and that discussions are going to continue to be had. “We’re going to continue to make changes going forward, and hopefully changes that do what we hope,” Donavan said. “Which is respect and honor Native American Heritage while celebrating the fan experience.”


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