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Protest calling for Chiefs to change name and stop using tomahawk chop planned ahead of Super Bowl

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Posted at 10:54 AM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 13:04:52-05

A Native American rights group is planning a protest on Sunday urging the Kansas City Chiefs to retire the team's name and stop fans from using an in-game tomahawk chop ahead of Super Bowl LV in Tampa.

Alicia Norris, co-founder of the Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality (FIREE), is one of the people leading the demonstration set to take place near Raymond James Stadium, where the Chiefs will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the championship. Norris told CBS News that the use of the name and chop are "dishonorable and disrespectful."

"The Indigenous people of this land have already had a mass genocide approach with regard to their culture and way of living," she said. "And when you further dehumanize them and objectify them, it just kind of falls in line with that extinction of who they are."

In 1963, the team picked the "Chiefs" name to honor former mayor Harold Bartle, whose nickname was "The Chief" and was instrumental to bringing the team from Dallas to Kansas City. The Chiefs went on to adopt arrowheads in the their logo and name their home stadium Arrowhead Stadium.

Until last season, the team allowed fans to don headdresses and wear face paint at games. Many fans also break out in "war chants" while making a hand chop motion, imitating the Native American tomahawk.

For Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center (KCIC), the Chiefs should just "rip the band aid off" when it comes to a name change.

"If your team name inspires you to do something that people are gonna say, 'Hey, that's racist,' then maybe your team name needs to change, because that's just not, it's not sustainable, Crouser told CBS News.

"A lot of people just have gotten used to that kind of stereotyping," she said.

The pressure on the Chiefs comes after other teams have decided to ditch their Native American-themed monikers. The Washington Football Team changed their name last summer. The Cleveland Indians announced they're getting rid of their nickname and two years ago, they dropped their controversial Chief Wahoo logo.

It's not just Native American rights groups calling for the change. The Kansas City Star posted an editorial this week urging the Chiefs to abandon the Native American imagery. With millions set to tune in to the big game, the newspaper's editorial board had a message for people unaware of the Chiefs' traditions.

"For those fans, a message: Many Kansas Citians will cringe along with you when spectators do the chop," they wrote. "We embrace the team's on-field success, but don't think a corrosive chant has much to do with it. It isn't fair to ask groups offended by these symbols to wait even longer for change."

The success of the Chiefs, who are playing in a second consecutive Super Bowl, is only bringing more attention to the controversy.

"It's just not a good look for Kansas City," Crouser said. "We're better than that."

CBS News reached out to the Chiefs, but did not immediately hear back. Previously, Chiefs president Mark Donovan said discussions on the topic will continue.

"You are going to have opinions on all sides on what we should and shouldn't do," he said. "We're going to continue to have those discussion. We're going to continue to make changes going forward, and hopefully changes that do what we hope, which is respect and honor Native American heritage while celebrating the fan experience."

Some members of KCIC will travel to Tampa to attend the protest, which will face heightened security measures for the NFL's marquee event. Crouser also took aim at the league, which publicly embraced the fight for racial justice and offered symbolic gestures, for letting the Chiefs continue on with the name and chop.

"It just rings so hollow when all you've done is stencil 'End Racism' above your name and your name is the Chiefs and you're still doing that stupid chop," she said.