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WUSF's coverage of Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Feb. 7, 2021.

Indigenous Group Will Protest Kansas City Chiefs On Super Bowl Sunday

Red, white and yellow colored Kansas City Chiefs flag on pole
Brock Wegner
The Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality Organization is planning on protesting the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl.

The Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality Organization is planning on protesting the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Although the Kansas City Chiefs are set to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, they have another opponent — a St. Petersburg-based Indigenous group opposed to the team’s identity.

The Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality Organization, or FIREE, is planning a protest near Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

Last year, the Chiefs banned the practices of wearing ceremonial headdresses and Native American-style paint at the Arrowhead Stadium.

The Tampa Bay Times reports the NFL will be employing the same policies for Sunday’s game.

But that isn’t stopping FIREE from continuing to speak out, urging the team to ditch its name, mascot, and logo out of respect for Indigenous people.

“If we can't talk about the stereotyping of entire human beings and their culture and trivializing the spirituality and culture of people, how do we have real discussions about water rights, treaty rights, sovereignty, those kinds of things?" said Sheridan Murphy, co-director of FIREE. "We have had 40 years of struggle as indigenous rights people on these mascots, if not longer.”

“The Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians have finally began to change. That struggle has been going on since the 1960s and 70s at least, to get them to see us as human beings because native people are the only people that this is done to,” Murphy said.

He also said the use of the headdress and face paint hold spiritual, cultural, and even socio-political significance to their culture.

“Within certain plains, Indigenous nations like the Lakota, Comanche, or the Cheyenne, it's something that's held up, somebody has earned that, somebody has to work into that, not just to prance around the field. It demeans it in a lot of ways,” he said.

“The face paint has religious significance. For the cultures that use it, it is used for very serious ceremonies about life and death and things like that.”

Murphy adds that the stereotypical presentation of their culture has other effects.

“One in four Native youth attempt suicide, and one of the major reasons is they don't feel that their culture has any value in this society, that their being a traditional Indigenous person in America is not a valued way to be,” Murphy said. “And part of that is because of these mascots. We wanted to try to voice that and get people to realize that and understand what they're doing and bring change.”

The group will hand out leaflets at the intersection of Tampa Bay Boulevard and Dale Mabry starting at 4 p.m. Sunday.

FIREE has not been in direct contact with the NFL, but is working with the Kansas City Indian Center, which has ties to the franchise.

Kansas City Chiefs President Mark Donovan said at a press conference earlier this week that his organization will continue talking with such groups and consider possible changes in the future.

“Hopefully we'll find a place that does what we hope and that is to honor and respect the American Indian heritage as much as to celebrate our fan experience in Arrowhead (Stadium),” said Donovan.

Murphy acknowledged that the changes the Chiefs have implemented are “good things,” but, “those are small, little steps. But they've got to go the whole way. It’s the 21st century and after 500 and some odd years, people need to treat Indigenous people with respect.”

Christina Loizou is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second semester with WUSF.
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