After the Kansas City Chiefs announced they would ban fans from wearing Native American headdresses and regalia, some Native Americans in Tulsa said they’re happy the fight for respect is making progress.
Archie Mason is an avid football fan and a member of both the Cherokee and Osage Nations. Mason has a cousin who played on special teams for the Chiefs. Mason said he's glad the Kansas City Chiefs are are no longer allowing fans from wearing headdresses and Native American-style face paint inside Arrowhead Stadium.
"The attire that I see sometimes at some of the football games, it offends me, and it has not only to me, but to I’m sure some of my other Native American relatives and friends,” Mason said. "It's time for us as human beings, sharing the same continent and hemisphere, if you will, and country, to address one another and respect one another."
Mason said their traditions hold great meaning, but it is unsettling to see people who don’t even have the authority to sport such regalia still do so. He hopes that this can be a continued dialogue, as the Native American community works to educate those around them about the significance of their culture.
“When it comes down to the face paint, many tribes have different rules, you might say,” Mason said. “There are different reasons that we wore paint on our bodies. Whether it was for hunting, for ceremonies, and all of it had different meanings. The colors had different meanings. There are a lot of rules on how to do that. Sometimes, the paints were prepared and applied by very special people. That is all still very special to us today in 2020.”
Full-blooded Native Americans like Alice Whitecloud said it's a rite of passage to wear this ceremonial regalia. Whitecloud said people need a permit to obtain an eagle feather, and to even touch one is a sacred, high honor. She said this is a right she earned, and a long-standing tradition she’s passed down to her loved ones.
"Why would someone wear fake mock-looking eagle feathers with fake beads and doodads hanging off and tell us that they're honoring us, because it's not an honor. It's a put down is what it is,” said Whitecloud, member of the Cheyenne Nation and Ponca Nation. “I think if people knew how silly they looked to the natives out here, I don’t think they’d do it.”
Sam Struebing is a lifelong fan and Flag Warrior for the Chiefs.
“My first, initial thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, here it comes,’[…] and so I thought, ‘Online, it’s going to be a mess,’ and it was,” Struebing said.
Struebing said he can see it from both perspectives. However, he's happy to support a team that's on the right side of history.
“As a part of Chief Kingdom, we want to be inclusive to everybody,” Struebing said.
He said that he believes in the team’s leadership and stands by their decisions.
“Obviously, there’s some bowl-winning leadership,” Struebing said. “They understand what it takes to be successful, and if they believe that this is great for the culture of the team and the community, then I am in full support of it.”
He said the Chiefs have a great ongoing relationship with the Native American community, and true fans will not only understand, but admire the decision.
"This is not something that they just thought off the top of their head. This is something that has been premeditated, that has been argued, debated, thought out within the culture, I'm sure,” Struebing said. “I go back to… it doesn't change the on-field experience. You know, Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, they're still going to be there."
The Chiefs are also considering making changes to the Arrowhead Chop and the pregame beating of a drum often by celebrities, former players, or a coach.
“I don’t like the tomahawk chop either, and some of the rhythms or music that is played. It’s supposedly Indian music,” Mason said. “I turn the volume down and just watch the game.”
Mason and Whitecloud said that the term "Chief" is an honorable title, but they don't find it particularly offensive that the NFL team uses it. The term "Redskins" is the term that they will not stand for.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ full statement regarding these changes can be found here.