In honor of American Indian Heritage Month, the Kansas City Chiefs partnered with the American Indian Community Working Group for the second consecutive year to raise awareness during Sunday's home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There are two members of the Chiefs of American Indian descent: quarterback Tyler Bray of Citizen Potawatomi Nation and long snapper James Winchester of Choctaw Nation.
The American Indian Community Working Group serves as an advisor to the Chiefs to promote an awareness and understanding of Native cultures and tribes in the region while educating the public in the process.
"It's about the awareness of cultural protocol and honoring iconic, cultural symbols like face paint and headdresses," said Gena Timberman, member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and American Indian Community Working Group liaison to the Chiefs. "It's also recognizing who native people are today and how diverse our cultures are."
The Chiefs organization honored Native tribes during the pregame, beginning with the Blessing of the Four Directions. In many American Indian cultures, big events or meaningful events begin with blessings to bring about a sense of preparation, good feeling and spirit.
The blessing at Arrowhead was performed by Moses Starr, Jr., a spiritual leader of Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes from Concho, Okla. Starr is also a veteran, for which the month of November honors as well.
"Really what that is symbolizing and honoring is the four symbolic directions culturally in the way of the Cheyenne-Arapaho people," Timberman said. "[The ceremony] really instills a sense of good spirit and preparation for the events about to occur. It's an honor and a blessing to not only those around him, but also to the earth, the space and that stadium."
Starr was joined on the field by tribal leaders and tribal representatives carrying the flags that represent their tribes as sovereign nations. The tribes involved had a historic connection to the land around where Arrowhead Stadium was built.
The ceremony also represented the diverse and vibrant American Indian cultures that surround the region.
During the Chiefs pregame, Starr paired with the Cheyenne-Arapaho singers to prepare the Chiefs drum for today's game and sing the Honor Song, performed in recognition of former Kansas City Mayor, H. Roe Bartle, for whom the Chiefs are named.
After pregame warmups concluded, the Buddy Bond Color Guard of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes took the field to display the nation's colors.
Formed in 1989 to honor the Cheyenne-Arapaho Veterans, the guard was initially called the Oklahoma Inter-Tribal Color Guard. In 1996, the name changed to Buddy Bond Color Guard in honor of one of its members who had passed. Today, the group presents the colors at funerals, numerous powwows, school activities and sporting events.
"That's very symbolic to have those American Indian veterans," Timberman said. "In terms of cultural groups, American Indians by far have the most representation in our U.S. military services, so it's a real opportunity to see our American Indian veterans out there on the field carrying in the colors."
The singing of the National Anthem was performed by members of the Chickasaw Nation Youth Choir—a group formed in 2002 as an avenue to engage children in music while learning the language of the Chickasaw Nation. The youth choir has performed at the "Ground Blessing" of the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City, Okla., at Governor Brad Henry's Children's Inauguration and many times in the Oklahoma State Capitol and at a variety of tribal events.
"The Chickasaw Nation has an outstanding youth choir, and a group of primarily teens that are just fantastic," Timberman said. "They'll sing for governors and for tribal leaders, and they sang last year, as well. They're just an outstanding, well-rounded group."
Finally, right before kickoff, Bill Thorpe—son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe, who was of Sac and Fox Nation descent, presented the drum mallet to the Chiefs drum honoree, former tight end Tony Gonzalez.
"I think it's really important that the public sees how that drum is played in a traditional sense," said Timberman. "It's an honor to have Bill Thorpe here and recognize that family and the traditions and the traditions of the NFL."
On top of the events, the American Indian Community Working Group also had a table displayed in front of the Ford Fan Experience for cultural awareness.
Tribes involved in the day's activities include: the Peoria Tribe, the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the Wyandotte Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Kaw Nation, the Modoc Tribe, the Quapaw Tribe, the Shawnee Tribe, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas and the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma.
"From the Chickasaw nation to the Cheyenne people to the Arapaho people to the Wyandotte nation, you have 15 tribes with diverse cultural background," Timberman said. "We say there was a time when we were a collision of cultures. You have all of these tribes and communities kind of colliding into one another at one point in history.
"Today, we're a collaboration of cultures as we come together and create experiences that connect and unite our community."
According to Timberman, who has conducted research on American Indian territories, prior to becoming a state, Kansas was designated as Indian Territory as part of the Indian Removal Act. Tribes signed treaties agreeing to move onto reservations in Oklahoma and Kansas in exchange for undisputed ownership of new land. Tribes that refused or resisted were forcibly removed.
When Kansas was re-designated as a territory in 1854 and open to settlement, many of the relocated tribes suffered a second wave of removal. This pushed the vast majority of Kansas Indian tribes, including many natives, to this area and to Oklahoma in the late 19th century where some remain today.
In an effort to honor their historical challenges, the majority of the tribes that participated in Sunday's ceremony had a present day or historical tie to the area around Arrowhead Stadium.
Today, they are part of a regional tribal community that supports the Chiefs initiative to unite the community and create American Indian Heritage Month experiences based on education and awareness of who these tribes and Native people are both past and present.
Additional information is available at www.chiefs.com/americanindianheritagemonth and the Chiefs roster card through the Chiefs mobile app.