Not In Our Honor: NFL should have zero tolerance for racialized Native American branding (Column)

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Not In Our Honor is a coalition of local Native American leaders and American Indian organizations in the Kansas City metropolitan area who have been speaking out against the use of Native American stereotypes and misappropriation of Native American culture.

Additionally, Not In Our Honor sponsored a resolution adopted by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in 2020 to include in NCAI’s decades-long campaign for the elimination of race-based Native logos, mascots, names, behaviors and practices.

The decision of the Kansas City football team to remove the horse “War Paint” from the games in addition to last year prohibiting fans from wearing “headdresses and face paint styled in a way that references or appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions,” is another step in the right direction.

Though it may address the more blatant racist behaviors in the stadium, it does not address the overall racism and appropriation of Native culture inherent with utilizing a race of People as a mascot. It is also a disservice to the fans. While misguided at best, the fans are trying to support their team. By identifying some behaviors as too “offensive” while reserving some behaviors (tomahawk chop) for review, the team not only robs fans of the full fan experience, they have made the determination that some racism is OK, but blatant racism is not. This is directly in opposition to the recent statements made by the NFL, team owners, management, and players about social justice.

Banning these behaviors is unlikely to stop devout fans from continuing to don headdresses and face paint in the parking lot, nor will it prevent the opposing team from racist behavior. The opposing team will still use the same offensive signs and verbiage they have used for many years, such as “send them back to the reservation,” “scalp them,” and “Trail of Tears.”

Kansas City’s team name was chosen in 1963 to honor a mayor nicknamed “The Chief” due to his founding of an imaginary Boy Scout Indian tribe. This occurred before the Civil Rights movement and before the American Indian Civil Rights movement in the 1970s. For decades, hundreds of tribes, national Indian organizations, and professional organizations have spoken out on this matter. In 2005, the APA called for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations, stating “Research has shown that the continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities has a negative effect on not only American Indian students but all students …”

The attempt to justify the maintenance of racist mascots because a very small number of Native Americans accept it, when a majority of us vehemently oppose them is shocking. A recent study found the more connected the individual Native is with their culture (language, traditions, ceremonies), the stronger their opposition.

With the KC “Inspire Change” and “Kingdom United” program to teach students to learn about “race and inclusion,” why not take a step and inspire a whole race of Native Americans and change the name! Be on the side of racial justice, don’t just talk about it. Currently, our petition asking KC to change the name is over 11,000 signatures.

Not in Our Honor will continue our protest outside the stadium in addition to other signage around the city. We ask:

Cease the use of racialized Native American branding by eliminating any and all imagery of or evocative of Native American culture, traditions, and spirituality from their team franchise including the logo. This includes the use of Native terms, drum, arrows, or monikers that assume the presence of Native American culture.

Apply the NFL’s “zero tolerance” for on-field use of racial and homophobic slurs to all races and ethnic groups, especially Native Peoples.

— Not In Our Honor Coalition
Rhonda LeValdo, Amanda Blackhorse, Ed Thomas Smith, Jimmy Beason, Shereena Becenti, Carole Cadue-Blackwood, Gaylene Crouser, Kansas City Indian Center, American Indian Council-Region VII

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