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Native American groups to protest Kansas City Chiefs nickname at Vikings game

Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) looks on from the sidelines in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 36-21. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Members of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media and other protesters plan to rally at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday to bring attention to what they call the derogatory nature of the Kansas City Chiefs antics and the misrepresentation of Native Americans in sports. The rally will be led by Native American women and children.

“The Kansas City Chiefs have flown under the radar,” said Norma Renville, the executive director of Women of Nations Community Advocacy Program and Shelter. “They are contributing to our cultural genocide.”

The Chiefs and Vikings play at noon Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Sunday’s rally will be like last year’s rally that drew attention to the Washington Redskins when they were in town to play the Vikings. Protesters will march to the stadium and rally there. But unlike the Redskins protest, the rally’s focus will not be on the name of the Kansas City team, but the organization and its fans’ antics.

The banging of a large drum that resembles a sacred drum, chief headdresses, chants and the crowd’s tomahawk chop are among NCARSM’s concerns.

“They don’t do this to any other race of human beings,” said NCARSM co-founder Clyde Bellecourt. “We’re gonna declare war — declare war — on this kind of insensitivity.”

Richie Plass, a 64-year-old Native American, will be among the protesters. When Plass was asked to be his high school’s Indian mascot during his senior year at Shawano High School in Wisconsin, he said he was reluctant at first. But he put on the chicken-feather headdress and the frilly suede vestments after some persuasion by school leaders.

The first two games of his tenure as mascot went well, he said. They were home games and the fans — his friends, family and peers — supported him. Then he went with the basketball team to Kaukauna, where he encountered angry fans yelling slurs and grabbing at him, he said.

In tears, he ran to the visiting team’s locker room soon after being pelted by banana peels, orange peels, paper cups and spit, he said.

“They wanted a Hollywood Indian,” he said. “It’s always bothered me; it’s always in the back of my head.”

Plass, who lives in Green Bay, Wis., now curates a mobile collection of more than 200 items of Native American imagery in American popular culture. He carries what he considers to be both good and bad representations, he said.

Plass’ gallery, Bittersweet Winds, has been open to the public for the past few days at the American Indian Movement Interpretive Center in Minneapolis.

Past Plass’ gallery, and the smell of burning sage that came with it, in a boardroom in the AIMIC on Friday, Abel Martinez, 16, and Priestess BearStops, 19, sat with community leaders at a news conference about Sunday’s rally.

“Why are they so focused on making us the mascot?” Martinez asked. “Look at us. None of us are red.”

The two teenagers will be among the women and children leading the rally.

Although the two are young, they are carrying on a fight that has been waged for the past 45 years, Bellecourt said. The rally is just another battle in the ongoing war to represent Native Americans as more than mascots, he said.

Ten colleges have changed their nicknames from Native American-based titles since 1972, according to a 2013 list compiled by USA Today.

Even Plass’ alma mater, the Shawano Indians, changed its name. They are now the Shawano Hawks.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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