Dec 7, 2014 - The Kansas City Mic-O-Say Chiefs, By Jimmy Lee Beason II
At first, I wasn’t going to comment too much on the Kansas City Chiefs and there slightly less offensive team brand and all the culturally appropriated hi-jinx that ensues because of it. You know the usual stuff; white people (and usually anyone else who isn’t Native) wearing a “war bonnet” and red “war paint”, wielding a plastic tomahawk whooping and hollering. Or the tomahawk chop where thousands of fans ritualistically extend their arm and hand to simulate a “chopping motion” while humming some weird noise. Or that time when the Sonic Drive-in at Belton, Missouri posted the phrase on their sign, “KC Chiefs will scalp the Redskins; feed them whiskey send to reservation.”
Although I played some football in high school, sports don’t exactly garner much of my attention these days. Sports fervor in American society is akin to religious fanaticism with cults of fans worshipping athletes with pre-game rituals and superstitions. This is even more exasperated when the team has decided to make Native people their pet.
Proponents of these Indian mascots, such as with the R-Skins fans, will use various arguments to justify racist behavior on the part of the fan base of these teams. The KC Chiefs are no exception. Many non-Natives will argue that the team is not disparaging to Native people because it is meant to honor former two-term Mayor of Kansas City, H. Roe Bartle, who served between 1955 and 1963.
Others will state that an arrowhead has been historically used by many other cultures in the world, so it is equally applicable to all people, not just Natives. Another view is the term “Chief” is not racist, as it represents someone in power, or of a highly respected office. If some of this is true, then why aren’t fans dressing up as cavemen or cavewomen since they obviously used arrows to hunt their food thousands of years ago? If the name “Chief” is meant to honor H. Roe Bartle, then why not dress up as a fat old white guy in a suit and tie? Online hecklers, who oppose a name change of the Chiefs, can’t seem to get their story straight. Hopefully this intervention of sorts, will help to iron out some details.
According to this anecdote on the Chiefs official website, the KC name originated as follows:
“Kansas City’s mayor, nicknamed ‘Chief,’ also promised to add 3,000 permanent seats to Municipal Stadium, as well as 11,000 temporary bleacher seats…. Hunt and Stram initially planned on calling the relocated team the Kansas City Texans, but thanks to the insistence of Steadman, the team was officially christened the Chiefs on May 26th, in part to honor the efforts of Bartle.”
What is not mentioned on the KC Chiefs webpage is the fact that H. Roe Bartle, a non-Native, was a Native wannabe whose love affair with all things Indian, resulted in the creation of a fake tribe of more wannabes called “Mic O Say” in 1925. Currently headquartered in Missouri, they serve as an offshoot of the Boys Scouts of America boasting of “17,000 members strong” according to their website (micosay.org). Their “reservation”, as members call Camp Geiger, is located two miles northwest of St. Joseph, Missouri. The most noticeable thing about this phony tribe is that, based on the pictures and videos on their website, there group overwhelmingly consists of white males of all ages. Although in one image I saw a black man dancing in the background. Most of the pictures show them replete in brightly colored headdresses, roaches, breechcloths and all other form of regalia you would see at a pow-wow.
According to the Mic O Say news segment called, “Make Talk Now”, (which has clips on youtube) they even have pow-wows during the year, complete with contest numbers and an emcee attempting to imitate a “genuine Indian emcee”. One initiation ritual they perform consists of a “ceremony” where young kids spend the night alone out in the woods, and then find their new “tribal name” on a stack of rocks in the morning. These names provided to them are stereotypical Indian sounding names such as “Smoking Leaf”, “Lone Strike” and “Little Jumping Bear.” Others are not even at least stereotypical sounding, such as “Smallest Black Dirt” and “Little Leg Pipe.”
After this ritual, which I can only assume is meant to simulate a vision quest; these new recruits ingest a mysterious “black drink” then later have a bear claw necklace placed around their necks by higher ranking members. Titles among their group are “brave, warrior, sachem and medicine man.” All of this was inspired by Bartle’s experience living in Wyoming among the Arapaho during the 1920’s, where he immersed himself in “American Indian folklore”, according to his bio. The argument by fans and organization reps that people called him “Chief” out of respect for his position as a Kansas City mayor is rather bogus. They actually called Bartle “Chief” because his seeming identity complex influenced his decision to become the founding leader of the made up Mic-O-Say tribe.
Furthermore, what is even more concerning is that actual Natives are jumping up in defense of the Chiefs organization, even to the point of blurring the lines of fake and real themselves. At the recent KC game against the NY Jets, some Natives engaged in an exhibition, that bordered on a minstrel show, with a “blessing of the drum”, “blessing of the four directions” and the parading around of the American flag by Native veterans. Although I am not doubting the sincerity of those involved, but it seems to me rather inappropriate to be invoking ceremonial teachings at a football game where vulgar fans are more than likely drinking beer and barfing all over the place. Especially when we have high rates of alcoholism and all other ills that come about because of it.
Richard Lanoue, of the “Indian Council of Many Nations” based in Kansas City, states in a recent article, that the “redskins” is racially disparaging but “chief” is different. Lanoue follows the same script as everyone else, saying the word chief is a source of “honor” “respect” and “knowledge.” In my opinion, he has either overlooked or completely ignored the fact the Chiefs got their name from a culture pimp such as Bartle. He further states, “many local Native American groups support the Chiefs”. That may be true, but this sure isn’t the case with many other Natives I have personally spoken with.
Advocates of the KC Chiefs and other Indian mascots, will state these are strong mascots because they honor our “courage and strength”. Ironically, when we use these same attributes to stand up and voice our opposition to the use of them, we are told to “stop whining” and to “get over it”, thereby negating the very reasons they are supposedly honoring us in the first place. Although the name itself is not inherently racist, there were many times in the workplace where people have referred to me as “Chief” or said, “Hey Chief!” to tokenize my existence as a Native man. Being called “Chief” is a way to compact one into a one dimensional caricature only there for the amusement of others.
But no matter which way you look at it, Native themed mascots only serve to promote false stereotypes about who we are. In regards to the KC Chiefs, there is a direct link between them and the faux Mic O Say group. Realistically, if it weren’t for Bartle wanting to start a perpetual Indian themed Halloween party, then we wouldn’t even be discussing the Chiefs right now.
On one sports website, an online poster by the name of “bankmeister” back in 2009 stated on the forum, “I’m also a Mic-O-Say member with five consecutive years at Bartle, plus my mom has lived off of Roe Avenue for 25 years. H. Roe and the Chiefs mean a lot to me.” What I hope to come from this writing, is that people understand the Chiefs name was not even meant to honor actual Native people, but H. Roe Bartle. So, fans of this team are dressing up as fake Indians to honor a fake Indian! And keeping the Chiefs name only enables the ignorance that comes along with it. Speaking out against this imposter culture that brings millions of dollars to team owners and athletes, as well as promoting false perceptions, is more about just a name, but regaining control over our own identity.