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Indigenous Demonstrators Continue Opposition To Racism In Sports, Media

Above photo: Darren Thompson.

Protest at Super Bowl LVIII.

Las Vegas—On Sunday, February 11, a group of Native people demonstrated near an entrance  at the Super Bowl, where some say Kansas City’s continued use of the “Chiefs” is racist. It is  the second consecutive year that Kansas City has appeared in the Super Bowl, and opposition  to the “tomahawk chop”, an act some say mocks Native culture and must change, continues.

“I’m here to show people that it is not acceptable in this day and age to mock a people,” said  Rhonda LeValdo to Last Real Indians (LRI Media). LeValdo, an Acoma Pueblo citizen, traveled to Las Vegas  from Kansas City, where she teaches journalism at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kansas. In  addition to her professorship, she leads Not In Our Honor, a coalition of Native organizers who  advocate against the use of Native American imagery in sports. “Native people don’t  appreciate cultural appropriation, and that’s why we’re here.”

Kansas City’s football team is drenched in Native imagery, with thousands of its fans moving an  outstretched arm, bent at the elbow, up and down in a “chopping” motion while chanting to its  presentation of the “big drum” at Arrowhead Stadium. This is called the tomahawk chop, and is  celebrated in exact fashion among Florida State Seminoles and the Atlanta Braves fans. Many  have called for the abolishment of the “tomahawk chop” chant at all sports venues and any  and all Native American appropriation that occurs within the Kansas City franchise and in  football stadiums.

Demonstrators held signs that read Your chop is synchronized racism, Stop the Chop, Not in Our Honor—Change the Name—Stop the Chop and “We’re in Our Name Change Era”. Some  shouted in bullhorns saying, “Stop the Chop!” and “Cultural Appropriation is Racist!” while fans  arrived to attend the Super Bowl. Some Kansas City fans mocked the protestors, telling them  to “get a life” while mimicking the “tomahawk chop”.

Suzan Harjo, who has fought the use of the race-based mascots for decades, led a lawsuit for  17 years to change Washington’s former team name, the “Redskins”, said of the continued use  of race-based mascots to Last Real Indians: “It’s vital to achieving justice that we call attention

to injustice. We don’t do it to remind our opponents that we are not going away—they know  that—but to assure our own Native Peoples and our friends that we we are who we’ve always  been and aren’t changing our minds or selling out.”

Harjo is a Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee advocate who received a Presidential Medal of  Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2014 for her advocacy for Native cultural rights and  justice. Her opposition to the use of the “Redskins” team name led to the US Trademark Office  to revoke its patent because the word has been argued as a racial slur.

Those who demonstrated on Sunday, said their efforts to let people know that Native people  are still living people and appropriating their culture is racist. Some from the Las Vegas Native

community also voiced their opposition to the continued use of racism and cultural  appropriation.

“I’m here to protest the racist stereotypes by the Chiefs name, the stereotypes around the  tomahawk chop and advocate for the respect for Native people,” said Fawn Douglas, a Las  Vegas Paiute tribal citizen, in an interview with Last Real Indians.

Lakota People’s Law Project Director Chase Iron Eyes said of Native mascots: “For as long as  Native people can remember being cast in the foreigners gaze, there has been steady work to  expose the psychological terror in this practice of Indian mascots. It’s so entrenched that most

people take it for granted and fail to appreciate the insidious nature of the practice yet it is  causing serious harm to Native self esteem (according to the Association of American Indian  Psychology & possibly other medical associations).”

“It is so good to see people taking a stand and placing their bodies in the way of ignorance and  harm,” Iron Eyes said. “The fight continues.”

IllumiNative, an Indigenous women led non-profit organization who advocates for Native  representation in mainstream media and culture issued a statement to Last Real Indians: “IllumiNative stands with the Native Community and local organizers in Kansas City and Las  Vegas calling on the Kansas City Chiefs to change their name, retire all derogatory imagery  associated with Native peoples, and eradicate racist fan behavior like the ‘tomahawk chop’ at  their games,” said IllumiNative President Michael Johnson, Citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes  of North Dakota (MHA Nation), in a statement to LRI.

Last year, Arizona to Rally Against Native Mascots, Not In Our Honor, and the Kansas City  Indian Center organized a walk and demonstration in Glendale, to protest the use of the  “Chiefs” in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium. This year, organizers took a different  approach, by trying to appeal to Taylor Swift who is currently in a romantic relationship with  Kansas City tight-end Travis Kelce. One sign read, “Taylor Swift doesn’t do the tomahawk  chop. BE LIKE TAYLOR.” So far, Swift hasn’t had to apologize for doing the tomahawk chop  because she hasn’t been seen doing it.

While Swift hasn’t made a statement regarding the behavior by Kansas City, she has made  statements on her social media regarding the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of  George Floyd. “Racial injustice has been ingrained deeply into local and state governments,  and changes MUST be made there. In order for policies to change, we need to elect people  who will fight against police brutality and racism of any kind,” she tweeted on June 9, 2020  along with the Black Lives Matter hashtag with three fists raised in various skin shades.

The Washington football team retired its team name, the “Redskins” after decades of  opposition, on July 12, 2020 and Native leaders including the American Indian Movement  Grand Governing Council and Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, a White Earth  Ojibwe Nation citizen, hosted a press conference at the Minneapolis American Indian Center to  celebrate.

“We are people, not mascots, and the continued mockery of our culture is not honor—it an  affront to our existence,” said Lisa Bellanger, Co-Director of the American Indian Movement’s  Grant Governing Council in a statement to LRI.

Meanwhile, the NFL has permitted “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” to be stenciled in end  zones for the second straight year as part of the league’s Inspire Change platform.

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