Much has been said about the use of the word "Chiefs" as the name for Kansas City's professional football team. Some Native Americans find the term demeaning and objectionable as a people should not be considered a mascot. Some object to the use of Indian terms as they are reminders of defeat or because they might represent some sort of chest pounding arrogance.
So how can I, one who is just about as conscious of human rights as anyone, feel comfortable calling Kansas City's team the "Chiefs"? Well, first of all, officially, the mascot of the team is KC Wolf, not a Native American figure.
Officially, the Chiefs will counter that the team was named after former Mayor H. Roe Bartle whose nickname was "chief". Mayor Bartle was an important influence in bringing the Chiefs to Kansas City and the Chiefs say that the name is in his honor. The problem with this argument is that Mayor Bartle's nickname actually has Native American origins. Mayor Bartle was very active in Kansas City area Boy Scouts and a quick review of their activities and rituals will reveal a very strong Native American influence. Many of those rituals involve Scouts dressed in Native American regalia and, I believe, copies Native American music, dances and spiritual beliefs. The mayor's nickname came from his Boy Scout activities and, thus, has Native American origins. I call that a distiction without a difference!
Also, the Native American influence is overwhelmingly strong within the environment of the Kansas City Chiefs, it is hard to say that there was no Native American influence in the naming of the Chiefs. First and foremost, the Chiefs play in Arrowhead Stadium. Arrowheads were Native American weapons. A Native American head is displayed on many Chiefs graphics. Originally, the Chiefs celebrated touchdowns and field goals by having an Native American attired white man (and later a woman) ride around the stadium on a horse called War Paint.
My personal view is that I have never, since I started going regularly to Chiefs' games in 1969, considered the Chief or any Native American to be a mascot. I view the Native American references to be positive symbols, not demeaning disregard. For me, the Chief is symbolic of bravery, swift and lithe movement, well-honed bodies, valiant defense and cunning offense, the ability to strike with surprise, ability and agility and the competence to perform outstandingly in all environments. For me, the Chief is a symbol to be revered, not denigrated.
I am very sensitive to the plight of Native Americans. I am also aware that Native American names exist everywhere in America. There are many many states, cities, counties, townships, subdivisions, rivers, creeks, streets and schools that are named after Native American tribes, personalities or terms. If we were to abandon the use of Native American names in this country, probably one-third of the country would have to be renamed. Noteworthy is the fact that every state that surrounds Kansas City is named after Native American tribes - Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.
Do all these Native American names represent a denigration of Native Americans. I really do not think so. Many of these names were originally affixed to the place simply as a way to reference the area and when the designation started the area was in Native American hands. The Native American terms were not meant to indicate the white man's domination, only to identify the place.
Native Americans have been isolated into relatively small and generally hostile environments. To completely eliminate Native American names from our American maps, places and things would virtually wipe the existence of Native American from our minds. If we do a good job educating people, when we say the words "Missouri" or "Kansas" we might every now and then remember how two tribes of Native Americans (among others) were displaced from lands in which they lived and sustained themselves and try to conduct ourselves better in the future.
I should note that the Chiefs organization has tried to bring Native Americans into the opening ceremonies and in other aspects. I would hope that in all the glory of our Super Bowl wins that we do not forget that the name represents a valiant people who were wronged in a very great way!