Ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs’ clash with the San Francisco 49ers at Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Sunday, critics are expressing concerns over “cultural appropriation” of Native American customs.
Articles in The New York Times, Washington Post and other media outlets tracked the increased scrutiny engulfing the Chiefs because of their fans’ wearing of Native American headdresses, face paint and costume feathers.
The “Arrowhead” or tomahawk chop performed by Chiefs’ aficionados has also sparked controversy.
Rhonda LeValdo, an Acoma Pueblo woman who lives in the Kansas City area, expressed her outrage in an op-ed for the Kansas City Star.
“As an educator, I have done many presentations on the misconceptions about Native American people and the terrible stereotypes that are reinforced by sport mascots that use Native imagery. It is getting exhausting. And every single time it is traumatic, going over the massacres, racism and genocide carried out against the people indigenous to this country,” LeValdo, a professor of media communications at Haskell Indian Nations University, wrote.
LeValdo described a conversation with a U.S. military veteran, in which she compared “cultural appropriation” to stolen valor.
“I asked him how he he feels about people who pretend to be veterans when they are not. That is what the Native headdress equates to: Chiefs went to battle and earned it, much like the medals military veterans earn. He refused to see the correlation,” she wrote.
Native Americans interviewed in various outlets had mixed reactions regarding whether the tomahawk chop and other modes of “cultural appropriation” by Chiefs fans were offensive.
“I encourage both the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs organization to move away from any and all depictions of Native Americans as mascots, in chants and any other form of team promotion,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement to The Post.
A University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley study cited by The Times found that roughly half of Native Americans surveyed said they were not offended by tomahawk chops or the wearing of headdresses.
A 2016 poll found that 9 in 10 Native Americans are not offended by the Washington Redskins’ team name.
A 2019 poll had similar results.
But a cursory social media scan suggests progressive Twitter users aren’t as divided on the issue as Native Americans themselves.
Most appeared to ardently support the abolishment of all possible markers of “cultural appropriation” from NFL teams.
I really hope the Chiefs win the Superbowl™…but also…the 21st century human I am, winces at the head dress icon and arrowhead and "tomahawk chop" and the horse named "Warpaint"…and all that old timey racist stuff.
— I collect spores, mold & fungus (@Molly__Jean) January 30, 2020
“I really hope the Chiefs win the Superbowl™…but also…the 21st century human I am, winces at the head dress icon and arrowhead and ‘tomahawk chop’ and the horse named ‘Warpaint’…and all that old timey racist stuff,” said one commenter.
“This really must stop,” tweeted progressive writer T. Thorn Coyle in response to a Post article about the controversy.
I dislike the Tomahawk Chop because it’s dumb and comes from Florida State, & I am not in favor of white dudes appropriating generic Native American dress, but overall, I don’t think the Chiefs branding or traditions are as bad as many – given the history of the region & the name
— Krown City King (@KrownCityKing) January 30, 2020
“Shameful,” tweeted one commenter.
“I love Kansas City, but I don’t love this,” reporter Kasia Kovacs said in a tweet.
Fact: You can enjoy a Chiefs game without partaking in the racist chanting and tomahawk chop. https://t.co/KapX5gHlSl
— Lauren Caldwell ? (@missuglyshoes) January 29, 2020
“A reminder: Indigenous People would rather the Chiefs stop all Native gestures, most of all the tomahawk chop/war chant,” tweeted New York Times reporter Aaron Randle.