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Blackhorse: Fake Chiefs, Headdresses and the Tomahawk Chop Must Go

Blackhorse: Fake Chiefs, Headdresses and the Tomahawk Chop Must Go

In 2005, other Natives and I of Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas created the group, Not in Our Honor. I was attending the University of Kansas at the time. The group NIOH was created in the home of Rhonda LeValdo along with folks like Ryan Redcorn, Deidra Whiteman, Caleena Hernasay, Marqueita Peltier, Jason Brightstar Lewis, and Myron Dewey. Our goal was to protest the Washington Team playing the Kansas City team in Kansas City and to raise awareness on the mascot issue. This protest opened my eyes as I witnessed the viciousness of fans that spewed hatred to protect their team. It has been 9 years since this protest and huge strides have been made with the Washington name change, but the Kansas City team remains largely untouched.

I’ve stated before, I find the logo, name and other degrading messaging the Kansas City team portrays of Native American people debasing. I believe the team understands they will be targeted soon enough so they’ve taken extra precautions to appear 'Indian friendly' by honoring the big drum, claiming historic ties to Native communities, and honoring pretend Indian H. Roe Bartle (Jimmy Lee Beason II explains this well in his Last Real Indiansarticle as well as bringing in a select few real Natives to sing and dance for them). These sorts of rituals do not make the stereotyping any less hurtful. These rituals do not take back those horrible words and acts of aggression experienced by Native people and groups who have for years, protested their presence. It appears that dividing and conquering the Native American community is a tactic that is commonly used to protect institutional racism in the NFL. Paying off certain groups and calling yourself “Indian friendly” does not make you any less offensive to the masses of Native people.

Over the weekend, my group Arizona to Rally Against Native American Mascots, as well as Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, and Not Your Mascots protested the Kansas City Chiefs visiting Glendale, Arizona to play the Arizona Cardinals.

Photo courtesy AZ2RANM

What we’ve come to expect from fans or participants of the game: Vulgar, irate, racist statements, and fans talking/yelling their disgust with our presence.

For example, as I was walking back from the restroom alone (I will not do that again at a protest), one man walked by me and said, “Fucking Navajos!” Mind you, I was not holding a sign of protest. He was walking with a group of people and I quickly turned around, took out my phone and snapped a picture of him. After I did this, he yelled, “Yeah take a picture bitch, it lasts longer!” He then threw up his middle finger. If you’ve read my last article regarding hate mail please believe me, I do not enjoy this sort of encounter. It really does hurt no matter how you mentally prepare yourself. Sometimes I can ignore it or block it out but mostly it just really hurts to hear. The reason I talk about the hate is because I find it is important for people to know what it looks like and how it feels to receive it.

Photo courtesy Amanda Blackhorse

I quickly went back to our protest station. To no surprise, we also encountered fake headdresses, war paint, and the tomahawk chop. People would walk by without saying anything but look our way and do the extending arm thing (Tomahawk chop). They walked by with smirks on their face and saying, “Go Chiefs!” “Go r*dsk*ns!”

Many people who walked by yelled, “Chief isn’t racist. Chief isn’t racist like r*dsk*n!” Or they mocked: “What about chief executive officer? What about chief of police? What about chief of staff?” The fact that these questions are being asked shows me the context of the word chief is not understood, or is it being ignored?

I am not offended by Chief Executive Officer, Chief of Staff, or Chief of Police, so long as those positions do not require a headdress or war paint by non-Native people who have no right to wear this. The idea of being a chief was actually created by the non-Natives. It is a Western concept. Most Native communities were and are matriarchal societies. Colonial settlers were not used to this concept and wanted to do “business” with men so they created the idea of Indian chiefs. This is not to say that men weren’t great leaders but we did not call our leaders, chiefs. Yes, we have many very powerful chiefs in our history. There is of course the great Chief Manuelito the Diné revere or others like Chief Joseph, Red Cloud, Cochise, etc. Those prominent figures were men and came at a time of revolt and resistance. They were necessary. Do we currently have chiefs in our communities? Yes. There are many tribes who use that title and it is respected when it is used in our communities, by us, and to describe us. The way in which professional sports, Hollywood and the media has created and promoted their idea of a “chief” is a bamboozled version of our freedom fighters. Many of us don’t think about the etymology of the Latin word chief, which means “head of state.” People will usually think of this:

Photo courtesy

When people celebrate the Kansas City Chiefs they are not celebrating businessmen and women who are heads of American companies, or the chief of police, or the chief of whatever else, they are celebrating the stereotypical image of what western society has created -- the Americanized Hollywood mascot chief.

Not only is the idea of the Americanize Hollywood, mascot chief problematic, but the used of fake headdress is also very problematic. It seems that each month there is a fake headdress violation in popular culture. We can find those violators on the Native Imagery Walk of Shame by Dr. Adrienne Keene.

Singer Pharrell apologized for donning a headdress on the cover of Elle UK in June 2014. Photo courtesy

The headdress is sacred to many tribes. This is undeniable. It is completely disrespectful to replicate this and parade around for fun and games. That would be the equivalent of dressing like a pregnant nun for Halloween. I’ve seen it, and yes, Catholics were pissed!

What needs to happen: Stop dividing the Native community and using them as pawns. Change your name and logo (I did not get a chance to go in on the arrowhead and its sacredness in the Dine’ culture). Stop the tomahawk chop. Stop the use of headdresses in your games and take note from the efforts of April Negrette and Kimball Bighorse as well as the work of Nicholet Deschine Parkhurst with the Arizona Cardinals (yes, this may not address the bigger problem but it is a step in the right direction); stop the redface, stop the use of any sort of costumes or paraphernalia related to Native American people in games, and please stop the mascotry of Native American people.

Amanda Blackhorse. Photo courtesy Malcolm Benally

Amanda Blackhorse, Diné, is a mother and activist. She and four other plaintiffs won a case against the Washington football team that stripped it of six of its seven trademarks. She lives in Kayenta, Arizona on the Navajo Nation.