Whether it be for self-preservation or just out of an admirable instinct to do the right thing, the Kansas City Chiefs are making a concerted effort to solicit local Native groups' input into their pageantry and traditions. What a concept.
The Chiefs' moves, chronicled in this Kansas City Star piece (via PFT), are obviously being made in the context of the disaster that is Washington's relationships with tribal groups, which tend to be either adversarial or financially beneficial. But this isn't nearly the same situation; "Chiefs" isn't in itself an offensive word. It's a title, not a dictionary-defined slur based on skin color. But to get out in front of any potential backlash over the use of Native imagery, team executives meeting with local groups to get a sense of potential concerns before they become national issues.
Sometimes it's just as simple as asking for advice:
At the risk of oversimplifying a complicated and sensitive issue, there's a worthwhile example with the war drum used by the Chiefs at home games.
There's a chance you haven't given that drum a second thought. The Chiefs brought it back when "opening" the renovated stadium four years ago as part of a challenge from Donovan to reconnect with some old traditions. As it turned out, they found the actual drum used at Municipal Stadium. They've had celebrities like George Brett and Tom Watson bang the drum to get fans going on game day.
Well, the war drum represents something very different than crowd hype to a lot of American Indians. The Chiefs didn't mean to offend anyone with this, of course. They just didn't know. They could have used some guidance, and this is one of the points [president of the American Indian Center of the Great Plains John] Learned made to [Chiefs president Mark] Donovan and [VP of business operations Bill] Chapin.
"I told Mark, 'I could've helped you with this,'" Learned says.
Learned suggested the Chiefs go to a local tribe, with respect, and ask for a real drum to be made. Bring that drum to Arrowhead. Have a blessing. Show your fans this is something very sacred to Indians. Help them understand why you're doing this. Have men from the tribe come in and play a real hymn and sing.
"I think a lot of Natives would embrace that, because you came to us and asked a good way of doing it and your fans would learn something," Learned says. "We would like to teach about our culture. The Chiefs have the opportunity to teach this, and everybody wins. … The Chiefs are making money off Native American icons. So, yes, it's a two-way street."
Be more like the Blackhawks! Be less like Dan Snyder. (This is good advice in general.) Cultural appropriation isn't inherently bad, but it tends to be when it's done unilaterally and without even the most basic effort to make sure you have things right.