For Native American activists, the Kansas City Chiefs have it all wrong (2024)

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Rhonda LeValdo is exhausted, but she’s refusing to slow down. For the fourth time in five years, her hometown team and the focus of her decadeslong activism against the use of Native American imagery and references in sports is in the Super Bowl.

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for Sunday’s big game, so does LeValdo. She and dozens of other Indigenous activists are in Las Vegas to protest and demand the team change its name and ditch its logo and rituals they say are offensive.

“I’ve spent so much of my personal time and money on this issue. I really hoped that our kids wouldn’t have to deal with this,” said LeValdo, who founded and leads a group called Not In Our Honor. “But here we go again.”

Her concern for children is founded. Research has shown the use of Native American imagery and stereotypes in sports have negative psychological effects on Native youth and encourage non-Native children to discriminate against them.

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“There’s no other group in this country subjected to this kind of cultural degradation,” said Phil Gover, who founded a school dedicated to Native youth in Oklahoma City.

“It’s demeaning. It tells Native kids that the rest of society, the only thing they ever care to know about you and your culture are these mocking minstrel shows,” he said, adding that what non-Native children learn are stereotypes.

LeValdo, who is Acoma Pueblo, has been in the Kansas City area for more than two decades.

For Native American activists, the Kansas City Chiefs have it all wrong (4)

She arrived from New Mexico as a college student. In 2005, when Kansas City was playing Washington’s football team, she and other Indigenous students organized around their anger at the offensive names and iconography used by both teams.

Some sports franchises made changes in the wake of the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Washington team dropped its name, which is considered a racial slur, after calls dating back to the 1960s by Native advocates such as Suzan Harjo. In 2021, the Cleveland baseball team changed its name from the Indians to the Guardians.

Ahead of the 2020 season, the Chiefs barred fans from wearing headdresses or face paint referencing or appropriating Native American culture in Arrowhead Stadium, though some still have.

“End Racism” was written in the end zone. Players put decals on their helmets with similar slogans or names of Black people killed by police.

For Native American activists, the Kansas City Chiefs have it all wrong (5)

“We were like, ‘Wow, you guys put this on the helmets and on the field, but look at your name and what you guys are doing,’” LeValdo said.

The next year, the Chiefs retired their mascot, a horse named Warpaint that a cheerleader would ride onto the field every time the team scored a touchdown. In the 1960s, a man wearing a headdress rode the horse.

The team’s name and arrowhead logo remain, as does the “tomahawk chop,” in which fans chant and swing a forearm up and down in a ritual that is not unique to the Chiefs.

The added attention on the team this season thanks to singer Taylor Swift’s relationship with tight end Travis Kelce isn’t lost on Indigenous activists. LeValdo said her fellow activists made a sign for this weekend reading, “Taylor Swift doesn’t do the chop. Be like Taylor.”

“We were watching. We were looking to see if she was going to do it. But she never did,” LeValdo said.

For Native American activists, the Kansas City Chiefs have it all wrong (6)

The Chiefs say the team was named after Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, who was nicknamed “The Chief” and helped lure the franchise from Dallas in 1963.

They also say they have worked in recent years to eliminate offensive imagery.

“We’ve done more over the last seven years, I think, than any other team to raise awareness and educate ourselves,” Chiefs President Mark Donovan said ahead of last year’s Super Bowl.

The team has made a point to highlight two Indigenous players: 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.

In 2014, the Chiefs launched the American Indian Community Working Group, which has Native Americans serving as advisers, to educate the team on issues facing the Indigenous population. As a result, Native American representatives have been featured at games, sometimes offering ceremonial blessings.

“The members of that working group weren’t people that were involved in any of the organizations that actually serve Natives in Kansas City,” said Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center, which provides health, welfare and cultural services to the Indigenous community. Crouser is among those who plan to protest in Las Vegas this weekend.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver sees the label “Chief” as a term of endearment. He has been a Chiefs fan since he moved to Kansas City more than half a century ago, though he said it “wouldn’t bother me that much” if the name were changed.

“A chief was somebody with enormous influence,” said Cleaver, who is Black, making a reference to tribal chiefs in Africa. “As long as the name is not an insult or an invective, then I’m OK with it.”

The story presented by the Chiefs features the message that the team is honoring Native culture. But Crouser calls that a “PR stunt.”

“There’s no honor in you painting your face and putting on a costume and cosplaying our culture,” Crouser said. She added, “The sheer entitlement of people outside our community telling us they’re honoring us is so incredibly frustrating.”

LeValdo is very conscious of who gets to own a narrative. As a University of Kansas journalism student in the early 2000s, she says a professor told her she would be too biased as a Native woman to report on stories about Native people. When she entered the world of video journalism, she was told she “didn’t have the look” to be on camera.

During Chiefs home games, she and other Indigenous activists stand outside Arrowhead with signs saying, “Stop the Chop” and “This Does Not Honor Us.” The sounds of a large drum and thousands of fans imitating a “war chant” as they swing their arms thunder from the stadium.

For LeValdo, the pain fueling her anger and activism is rooted in the oppression, killing and displacement of her ancestors and the lingering effects those injustices have 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.”


This story corrects that LeValdo is from New Mexico.


Associated Press reporter Graham Brewer in Oklahoma City contributed to this report. Noreen Nasir is a New York-based member of the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on social media:

For Native American activists, the Kansas City Chiefs have it all wrong (2024)


How do Native Americans feel about Kansas City Chiefs' names? ›

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for Sunday's big game, so does LeValdo. She and dozens of other Indigenous activists are in Las Vegas to protest and demand the team change its name and ditch its logo and rituals they say are offensive. “I've spent so much of my personal time and money on this issue.

What did Native American Chiefs do? ›

chief, political leader of a social group, such as a band, tribe, or confederacy of tribes. Among many peoples, chiefs have very little coercive authority and depend on community consensus for implementing recommendations; often a number of recognized chiefs form a tribal chiefs' council.

When were the Chiefs bad? ›

The Chiefs have suffered two main periods of failure. Between 1972 and 1985 the Chiefs never appeared in the postseason and achieved only one winning season (in 1981) from 1974 until 1985.

Who were the native people of Kansas City? ›

Until 300 A.D., the Hopewell tribe hunted the area around Kansas City. The Mississippi tribe occupied the area between 760 and 1290 A.D. These tribes, which were stationary, were joined by the tribes of Kansa, Osage, Otos and Missouri.

Are Kansas City Chiefs changing their name? ›

While many sports teams whose brands appropriate Indigenous culture are changing their names and mascots, the Kansas City Chiefs have stood pat. We spoke with two experts to find out why.

What Indian tribe is Kansas named for? ›

KANSAS: Named for the Kansas or Kanza tribe of the Sioux family that lived along a river in the area and gave it the tribal name. The name translates as "south wind people," or "wind people." KENTUCKY: Origin and meaning controversial.

What is a daughter of a chief called? ›

Oheneba is a regal rank given to both female or male child of a king or chief. It is the equivalent of prince or princess (from Latin princeps, meaning principal citizen).

What is a female Indian chief called? ›

Female Indian chiefs are still known as "chiefs" because the title is gender neutral. American Indians, also known as Native Americans, do not have and did not have any restrictions that would prevent a woman from becoming chief.

Who were the 4 great Native American chiefs? ›

List of Native American leaders of the Indian Wars
NameLifeTribe Of Origin
Crazy Horsec. 1840–1877Lakota
Chief Joseph1840–1904Nez Perce
Chief Loganc. 1725–1780Mingo
33 more rows

What is the Chiefs biggest enemy? ›

The rivalry between the Chiefs and Raiders is considered to be one of the NFL's most bitter rivalries.

Who is Patrick Mahomes' half sister? ›

What is the oldest NFL team? ›

The Arizona Cardinals are the oldest established team in the NFL. They were established in 1898 as an independent team and joined the NFL in its founding year of 1920.

What Indian tribe is in Missouri? ›

There are no federally recognized Native American tribes within the state today, yet many Missouri place-names are of Native American origin.

What is native to Kansas? ›

In Kansas, there are currently 238 species of rare animals and 400 rare plants. Among those include: Boechera laevigata, Virginia Rail, Cleft Ledge, Royal Fern, Turkey-tangle, Bobolink, Cave Salamander, Peregrine Falcon, and Black-footed ferret.

How did the Chiefs get their logo? ›

Hunt's inspiration for the interlocking "KC" design was the "SF" inside of an oval on the San Francisco 49ers helmets. Kansas City's overlapping initials appear inside a white arrowhead instead of an oval and are surrounded by a thin black outline.

What is the story behind the Kansas City Chiefs name? ›

Harold Roe Bartle, the mayor of Kansas City in the early 1960s, was the man who inspired the naming of the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1963, Mayor Bartle, often known as “The Chief,” was key in luring Lamar Hunt's American Football League team, the Dallas Texans, to Kansas City.

Was Kansas City named after the local native people? ›

City founders derived the name from the Kansas, or Kaw, River which was named for the Kansa Indians. The state of Missouri then incorporated the area as the City of Kansas in 1853 and renamed it Kansas City in 1889.

What are Kansas City Chiefs fans called? ›

Red Coaters | Kansas City Chiefs -

What city is named after a Native American chief? ›

Seattle. Unlike the other entries on this list, Washington State's largest city is actually named after an Indigenous leader: the Duwamish Chief Si'ahl (anglicized as Seattle).


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