KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Moontee Sinquah spent just one minute on stage inside the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix on opening night of the NFL’s Super Bowl. But it is a minute that will remain unforgettable.
The Native American hoop dancer had never been closer to football players and coaches about to compete in the biggest game of the league. As he and other Indigenous artists sang and danced, they heard euphoric screams from Indigenous people in the audience.
It gave Sinquah the creeps.
“I’m really grateful that they’ve highlighted our people because I think that’s really important,” said Sinquah, who is a member of the Hopi-Tewa and Choctaw nations. But when he thinks of that inclusion coupled with Super Bowl cameras panning Kansas City Chiefs fans doing the maligned “tomahawk chop,” Sinquah says the juxtaposition has him “bewildered.”
“I think that’s the only thing that’s really bothering me about this whole thing, and I don’t know where it’s coming from. And I don’t really fully understand it, but it’s almost like a tease,” Sinquah said.
The Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs embarked on a victory lap Wednesday, with players and fans making the “cut” during a raucous parade and rally. Indigenous people are grappling with the national spotlight which once again falls on the team’s mascot and the fans’ war chant, which they deem racist. Last week in Arizona, where at least a quarter of the land base is made up of tribal reservations, there was a complicated mix of joy for the NFL involving native and indigenous cultures, but disdain for those cultures that are appropriated.
Chiefs fans long ago adopted the chant and arm-waving symbolizing tomahawk-wielding that began at Florida State University in the 1980s, although the school has an agreement with the Seminole Tribe to use the tribal moniker and imagery . In 2020, the Chiefs banned headwear and war paint in the stadium and prompted cheerleaders to make the “cut” with a clenched fist instead of an open hand.
There were many chopping into a red sea of Chiefs-wearing fans lining the parade route and in front of Kansas City’s Union Station, where the parade concluded. The team then closed out the rally by “chopping” in unison into a confetti pound.
Andrea Robinson, an 18-year-old psychology student at the University of Kansas, screamed as she made the cut open-handed with the crowd.
“I think we should keep it,” Robinson said. “I mean, we have to be respectful about it. I understand, but I mean it’s a tradition.
David Cordray, a 38-year-old heating, cooling and refrigeration technician from Kansas City, Missouri, said he didn’t see the harm in the gesture or the mascot. He also pointed to changes such as the retirement of the live mascot, a horse called “Warpaint” that a cheerleader would ride into the stadium after the team scores. Previously, a man wearing native headdress rode the horse.
“If they don’t think it’s right to do it then maybe we should stop. But the Native Americans I’ve come into contact with said they had no problem with it. It’s basically all opinion-based,” Cordray said. “We’ve come a long way to make sure we’re respectful of everyone’s culture and are vigilant about it.”
The origin of the Chiefs nickname may have more to do with the mayor who helped lure the franchise out of Dallas in 1963 than any connection to Native Americans.
Mayor H. Roe Bartle was a large man known as “The Chief” for his many years of leadership in the Boy Scouts. Team owner Lamar Hunt reportedly named the team the Chiefs in Bartle’s honor.
Even the Bartle connection has overtones that some find offensive. Although he was white, Bartle founded the “Mic-O-Say Tribe,” a youth camp organization that remains active and continues to use Native American dress and language. The young participants are “brave” and the supreme leader is the “boss”.
Chiefs chairman Mark Donovan said last week that Bartle got permission from the Northern Arapaho tribe to use the term “chief.” Rhonda LeValdo, founder of the Kansas City-based indigenous activist group Not In Our Honor, has disputed this narrative.
James Simermeyer, a member of the North Carolina-based Coharie tribe, watched most of the game from his home in Baltimore. He appreciated the involvement of the Sinquah dance troupe and a University of Arizona student who is Navajo and deaf who uses Native American sign language during “America the Beautiful” before the game. At the same time, he was like “one step forward and two steps back” when he heard the Kansas City fans chant during the cut.
With the publicity over the Chiefs’ win, Simermeyer said it’s like an implicit condoning of all the things Native and Indigenous people find painful.
“There is no positive reason to support it. But it sort of affirms the negative behavior that Kansas City fans are engaging in,” Simermeyer said. This.”