The Kansas City Chiefs partnered with the American Indian Community Working Group for the third consecutive season on Sunday in order to celebrate American Indian Heritage Month as the Chiefs took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arrowhead Stadium.
The American Indian Community Working Group serves as a liaison with the Native community and as an advisor to the Chiefs in order to promote an awareness and understanding of Native cultures and tribes in the region.
"The opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the Kansas City Chiefs is an opportunity for the American Indian Community Working Group to be consistent with the mission of creating an awareness and understanding of issues affecting Native people," the Working Group said in an official statement. "Native people and American Indian tribes have consistently encouraged consultation with our communities to better understand and address issues affecting us."
Chiefs President Mark Donovan agreed, citing the Working Group an important partner moving forward.
"Through our partnership with the American Indian Community Working Group, we continue to celebrate the rich Native American history of Kansas City and the Chiefs Kingdom," Donovan said. "We appreciate the Working Group's guidance in creating opportunities to properly educate and create awareness of the rituals and traditions of the Native American community."
The ceremony at Arrowhead Stadium began with the Blessing of the Four Directions, as tribal leaders and representatives from 19 local tribes displayed the flags of their tribes and sovereign nations. Their presence on the field was meant to represent the diverse and vibrant American Indian cultures that surround us.
The blessing itself, which was performed by Cheyenne spiritual leader Creg Hart, is common in many Native American cultures before special events and was meant to bring a sense of good spirit to the afternoon.
Most of the tribes in attendance possessed a historic connection to the area.
"The majority of tribes participating in the ceremonies today are tribes who have a present day or historic presence in the area around Arrowhead Stadium," said Gena Timberman, a member of Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and American Indian Community Working Group liaison to the Chiefs.
"Today, they are part of a regional tribal community that includes the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations – native to Oklahoma – that support the Chiefs' initiative to unite the community and create American Indian Heritage Month experiences that educate on the awareness of who tribes and Native people are – both past and present."
As game time neared, the Cheyenne-Arapaho Singers blessed the Chiefs drum and performed a special Honor Song in recognition of Chiefs long snapper James Winchester, a member of Choctaw Nation, whose father passed away on Nov. 15.
The Buddy Bond Color Guard of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes then presented our nation's colors before members of the Chickasaw Nation Youth Choir performed the National Anthem.
In addition to the pre-game festivities, there were four in-game announcements related to American Indian Heritage Month and an interactive display at the Ford Fan Experience.
The Chiefs' celebration of American Indian Heritage Month began last month, when Winchester and quarterback Tyler Bray – a member of Citizen Potawatomi Nation - hosted the Iowa Tribe Boys and Girls Clubs of Kansas and Nebraska for a Play 60 clinic and a tour of Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 14.
"I think it allows for a connection. Those kids see that they're a part of a heritage just as I am," Winchester said. "Wherever you come from, that heritage runs deep. It's just a cool opportunity to come out and have fun.
RaeAnn Hullman, the program director at the Boys and Girls Club of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, emphasized the impact the event had on the children involved.
"[The children] see that they can achieve anything - that there are some natives that reach higher levels of importance," Hullman said. "A lot of kids in our area haven't had the opportunity to do things like this."
"This is a once in a lifetime experience for them."
Both events represent a commitment by the Chiefs and the Native community to working together in the future.
"This is an ongoing journey," Timberman said. "And we believe we are moving in a positive direction."