Not in our honor: It is disappointing that the Kansas City NFL franchise has hijacked our heritage month

Suzan Shown Harjo.

Statement Regarding Kansas City NFL franchise recognition on November 1, 2020

Rhonda LeValdo, Acoma Pueblo

Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and learn about and from American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Peoples. Our Native organizations and families in Greater Kansas City look forward to working with schools, teachers, students, parents and civil and religious groups to dispel the many myths about us and to replace stereotypes and falsehoods with accurate images, art, music, stories and truth.

With so many possibilities for increasing knowledge and building good relationships, to promote its gross distortions of our symbols, names and behaviors. Its recognition of Native Heritage Month during the Nov. 1 home game is a hollow tribute, so long as the sports conglomerate persists in its assaults on the sensibilities of our children and young people.

Stealing our feathers, drums and other symbols and turning them into gigantic grotesqueries follows the time dishonored tradition of killing the Indians and taking the “trophies”— scalps, heads, body parts, moccasins, arrows. This is the literal dehumanization and objectification of the people, the erasure of Native Peoples.

Add to it the double whammy of the “Tomahawk Chop.” It calls up “Indian savages” at the same time it threatens real savagery against Native people  harkening back to a time of physical mutilation that is in our ancestors’ histories and our children’s nightmares.

Take a moment to consider the situation of Native Peoples in the United States. Despite the vast improvements in our lives and our many achievements and accomplishments in modern times, we remain at the undesirable ends of every socio-economic demographic marker.

Most of the problems Native Americans face today can be traced directly to failed policies of the distant and recent past. Today’s health conditions trace directly to deliberate extermination of the buffalo, salmon and Native-cultivated foods and medicines that kept the people in good health. Disrespect and objectification of Native people in the past continue in a straight line to the myriad social ills and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Disregard for our ancient wisdom and practices of living with the natural world led to today’s environmental emergencies and climate-change disasters.

Native peoples have policy issues we know how to resolve, but more often than not, we are not listened to or cannot be heard above the din of racism. Policymakers get the same impression of us as the rest of general society, from inaccurate educational materials and the images and names from the sports and advertising worlds that eliminate evidence of our humanity. Policymakers don’t make good public policy for mascots, cartoons, relics of the past, or beings that are not quite human.

Our voices are drowned out by the sound of the ginormous drum and arrowhead chop. We aren’t seen for all the fake feathers on all the fake chiefs.

Here’s where you come in. Help us by calling on the Kansas City NFL franchise to stop stealing our cultural icons and to cease their stereotyping. It’s a sport, but it’s not good clean fun for anyone, especially for our children. We are not throwing shade on the KC team or individual players. They’re our hometown team, too, only we and our children cannot go in any part of the metropolitan area without being confronted by images and behaviors that suggest we are inhuman, less than others or deserving of bigotry, mockery and stereotyping. 

We can like the team and dislike what they are doing. It’s not hard to do both those things at the same time. It may not feel bad to you, but you are not the target. We are.

We are the organizations of Native people who bear the brunt of the bigoted attacks. Our children suffer from the emotional violence inflicted by these weapons of racism. You may see or hear an actual Native person say s/he doesn’t mind the team’s name, symbols or behaviors. All that shows is that we are not a monolith. And, you should know, that the NFL franchise pays some of its fans and has “Indian spokesmen fans” on the payroll, too.

We and our families are not for sale, lease or rent. We are speaking for our extended families and our longtime communities in Greater Kansas City when we say Change the Name and all the symbols of anti-Native bigotry. Stop the Tomahawk Chop.

We are pleased to announce the support of the Native Artists Coalition to End “Native” Mascots. The coalition is comprised of outstanding Native Artists of national and international renown. Some are from the KC area or have lived here as students and have firsthand knowledge of what we are up against. They deal with issues of authenticity, representation, name-calling and stereotype-busting in their work and lives. These Native Artists stand in solidarity with the Not In Our Honor coalition.

Please end this racism, honor people of color without racist stereotypes!

Not In Our Honor Coalition: Rhonda LeValdo, Amanda Blackhorse, Jimmy Beason, Carole Cadue-Blackwood, Shereena Becenti, Ed Thomas Smith, Gaylene Crouser

Kansas City Indian Center

Region VII American Indian Council

National Center for Indigenous American Cultures (Thidaware)

Native Artists Coalition to End “Native” Mascots

Represented for this statement by:

Tony Abeyta (Navajo), multimedia painter, jewelry designer

Marcus J. Amerman (Choctaw), bead/glass artist, painter, performing artist

Keri Ataumbi (Kiowa), artist, jeweler

Shonto Begay (Dineh’), artist @ Foot of Sacred Mountain Studio

David Bradley (White Earth Ojibwe), painter, sculptor

Casey Camp-Horinek (Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma), elder & hereditary drumkeeper, environmental ambassador, actor, designer

Ricardo Cate (Kewa), artist

Kelly Church (Ojibwe), black ash basketmaker, artist

Benito Concha, (Taos Pueblo), Native American drummer, artist

Carolyn Dunn (Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Cherokee), poet, playwright, musician

Bunky Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Yakama), artist, designer, Muralist

Gary Farmer (Cayuga Nation, Wolf Clan), Actor and musician

Anita Fields (Osage Nation), sculptor

Yatika Starr Fields (Osage, Cherokee, Muscogee Creek), artist

Jennifer Elise Foerster (Muscogee (Creek) Nation), poet, writer, educator

Teri Greeves (Kiowa), beadworker, artist, curator

Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), curator, poet, playwright

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes), artist, educator

Lance Henson (Cheyenne), Cheyenne Dog Soldier, poet and playwright

Richard W. Hill, Sr. (Tuscarora), artist, educator and museum curator

April Holder (Sac & Fox), mixed media installation artist, community advisory board member for the PTM foundation

Kenneth Johnson (Muscogee-Seminole), designer, metalsmith

Randy Kemp (Choctaw, Mvskoke-Creek, Euchee) artist, spoken word storyteller, flutist, painter, performance artist

Jean LaMarr (Northern Paiute and Achomawi), painter, mixed-media artist, printmaker, muralist, arts educator

Oren Lyons (Onondaga) Onondaga Council of Chiefs, faithkeeper, Haudenosaunee artist, writer

Dallin Maybee (Northern Arapaho and Seneca), artist, attorney

America Meredith (Cherokee Nation), artist, curator, publishing editor of "First American Art Magazine"

Tiffany Midge (Standing Rock Sioux), poet, essayist, editor

Muriel Miguel (Kuna & Rappahannock), director, actor, choreographer, educator, playwriter, Spiderwoman Theater Artistic Director/founder, 2018 Doris Duke Artist

Mary Kathryn Nagle, Esq. (Cherokee Nation), playwright: Manahattaa, Sliver of the Moon, Sovereignty

Tammy Rahr (Cayuga Nation), artist, educator

Kenny Ramos (Barona Band of Mission Indians, Kumeyaay Nation), theater artist, educator

Renée Roman Nose, MAIS (Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma), activist, artist, poet, author of Sweet Grass Talking

Mateo Romero (Cochiti Pueblo), artist, muralist, 2019 Native Treasures Living Treasures Awardee

Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree), singer-songwriter, digital artist, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, recipient of an Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe, JUNO, SAG, and other honors

Madeline Sayet (Mohegan), Executive Director, Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program

Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida Iroquois), singer-songwriter, Grammy Award winner, peace ambassador, human and earth rights activist

Hoka Skenandore (Oneida, Oglala Lakota & La Jolla Band of Luiseno), artist

Arigon Starr (Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma), artist, writer, musician

DeLanna Studi (Cherokee Nation), actor, director, artistic director, Native Voices at the Autry

Wes Studi (Cherokee Nation), actor, Academy Award recipient

Murielle Borst Tarrant (Kuna/Rappahannock), actor, director, dramaturg, Director of Safe Harbors Indigenous Collective at LaMama

Gabrielle Tayac, Ph.D. (Piscataway), writer, educator

Marty Two Bulls, Jr. (Oglala Lakota), artist, comic artist

Mitch Walking Elk (Cheyenne/Arapaho/Hopi), musician/singer-songwriter/recording artist

Richard Ray Whitman (Yuchi-Muscogee Creek Nation), multidisciplinary visual artist, poet, actor

Elizabeth Woody (Navajo, Warm Springs, Yakama Nation), multimedia artist and author

Celeste Worl (Tlingit Tribe in Alaska), Artist, DJ, Worl Studio

Pictured: Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Suzan Shown Harjo with U.S. Capitol in the background, from the National Museum of the American Indian.
(Photo: Lucy Fowler Williams)

Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee, is a writer, curator and policy advocate, who has helped Native Peoples protect and recover sacred places and over one million acres of lands. Guest Curator and Editor of the award-winning exhibition (2014-2021) and book (2014), Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, she has been awarded a 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor.

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