The Kansas City Chiefs celebrated American Indian Heritage Month for a sixth-consecutive year at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday as part of the Chiefs' ongoing commitment to honoring the Native community.
Representatives from several different tribes were on hand for a number of pregame and in-game events dedicated to observing Native American culture and educating the fans in attendance.
The event existed through a collaboration between the Chiefs and the American Indian Community Working Group, which serves as a liaison for 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 ceremony began with the Blessing of the Four Directions, led by Fred Thomas from the Kickapoo Nation of Kansas in the way of their people. The blessing was meant to bring a sense of preparation and good spirit to the afternoon.
Following the blessing, Lakota Nation native Cody Hall performed a Drum Blessing before the Chief Hill Drum Group, from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, participated in a ceremonial drum Honor Song so that the drum may be later sounded in the Chiefs' tradition.
A drum is much more than just a musical instrument in Native cultures – it holds significant symbolic power. Traditionally constructed from the hides of animals, the drum possesses a powerful spirit representing the life of the animal. The beating of the drum is symbolic of the heartbeat of the animal, uniting those in attendance with the animal's spirit.
After the Honor Song, the colors were presented by the Kansas Native American Color Guard as singer/songwriter Tabitha Fair, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, and Victoria Venier performed the National Anthem while each wearing No. 41 jerseys representing Chiefs' longsnapper James Winchester, who has Choctaw heritage in his family.
"That was pretty cool, I got to shake hands with them afterwards," Winchester said. "I think it's neat that the Chiefs recognize this. My grandma's side is where the Native blood comes from and I'm proud of it."
And for many back in Winchester's native Oklahoma, the five-year veteran serves as an inspiration for what individuals of Native heritage can achieve.
"I don't think I'm deserving of any status as a role model, but you know the people back home think it's cool and they follow me, and that makes it special," Winchester said. "I play this game because I love it, but to be somewhat of an inspiration for people back home is probably the coolest thing about this gig."
As kickoff neared, Chiefs Chairman & CEO Clark Hunt presented a No. 21 Jim Thorpe jersey to Justin Wood, the Principal Chief of the Sac and Fox Nation - which Thorpe was a member of - and two of Thorpe's granddaughters on the field. Thorpe was the first president of the NFL, and the presentation recognized the 100th anniversary of that achievement.
It all made for an educational morning that provided fans with a glimpse into Native cultures and traditions, and the festivities continued into the game itself.
U.S. Air Force and Vietnam War Veteran Jerry Tuckwin, who continues to be an active figure in the operations of the Prairie Band Potawatomi, served as the Lamar Hunt Legacy Seat honoree on Sunday while Special Olympian Bradley Tanner, a native of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, beat the drum as the Tony DiPardo Spirit Leader at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
It all represented a special relationship that was featured on the biggest of stages on Sunday, again demonstrating the Chiefs' commitment to learning from and celebrating the Native community.