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Houska: Kansas City Chiefs Do Not Get a Pass

The Kansas City Chiefs do not get a pass, Tara Houska, Ojibwe, writes.

On Sunday, indigenous peoples once again drummed, danced, and rallied against the use of Native American imagery in sports at TCF Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Kansas City Chiefs were in town, playing the Minnesota Vikings. 

Curious Vikings fans lined the sidewalks snapping photos as we marched down University Avenue with the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, led by the Ringing Shield drum group and the Aztec dancers.

Ringing Shield drum group at the protest of the Kansas City Chiefs. Photo courtesy Tara Houska

“Look at all of the white people,” said one fan, “they’re not even all Indians.” “They’re called allies,” I replied. “What, so you think you’re in some kind of war?” he asked. I nodded, “Yes, for our dignity and our children.”

Walking past frat row and the first tailgaters, I immediately spotted a headdress and heavy face paint among the fans. This was the behavior we were here for – despite protestations of the Chiefs not having a Native American mascot, the team is notable for its ‘tomahawk chop’, a ‘Native’ chant, headdressed fans, and use of a giant drum.

When we reached TCF Stadium, we walked through the Tribal Plaza, a dedication to each of Minnesota’s eleven tribes, courtesy of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Two Chiefs fans began doing the tomahawk chop and chanting at us, as some Vikings fans laughed and others shook their heads.

The chilly morning was punctuated by tales of the American Indian Movement from stalwart figure Clyde Bellecourt, perspectives from Native American teens, and a heartfelt story by an Ojibwe mother, Lisa Bellanger.

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Lisa spoke of attending a Twins game with her children, and the excitement they felt entering the stadium. 

Just a few minutes in, her children began asking why the Cleveland Indians fans were making fun of them. They had been raised to be polite towards others and to treat sacred objects with respect – the red face paint, faux headdresses, and raucous ‘war whoops’ stood in direct opposition to what their mother had taught them. Chief Wahoo's grinning caricatured face stared at them from hundreds of jerseys. 

Lisa’s voice shook as she told her story, “No parent should ever have to tell their children that. No parent should ever have to explain why it’s ok for other people to make fun of them.”

As the sounds of the Vikings v. Chiefs game echoed through our small rally, our voices rose louder. The drum grew stronger. We stood in solidarity to denounce the dehumanization of Native peoples, to fight for the well-being of our children.

To those who thought the Natives would go away when the Washington football team changed the name, think again. Look for us at a stadium, school board, legislature, or courtroom near you.

Tara Houska. Photo courtesy Josh Daniels.

Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation) is a tribal rights attorney in Washington, D.C., a founding member of NotYourMascots.org, and an all-around rabble rouser. Follow her: @zhaabowekwe.