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Chiefs Football Poster Offensive to Some American Indians

October 20, 1991 GMT

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A poster showing the Kansas City Chiefs defensive line in war paint and American Indian regalia is raising the ire of Indian groups who view it as mockery, not flattery.

It’s the latest tangle in a national debate involving sports teams that use Indians as team symbols and mascots.

″The Tribe″ poster shows the shirtless players in face and body paint, beaded chest plates and wristbands, and feathered headdresses, along with white football pants, socks and cleats. Some are holding guns, spears or tomahawks.

″All of these things are symbols of honor. They are sacred,″ said Ellen Papineau of the Winnebago nation, which opposes the poster.

Money raised by sales of the $5.99 poster will go to the Heart of America Indian Center in Kansas City.

Chiefs spokeswoman Efie Protopappas said a few complaints have come in, but most people seemed mollified when told the Indian center helped coordinate the photo and that revenues would pay for a tutoring program at the center.

But Papineau said she takes issue with the center providing the authentic costumes for the photo.

″Our fight is not with the Chiefs,″ said Papineau, who is co-host of a weekly radio show called ″Urban Drums″ on KKFI-FM. ″The Chiefs have been misguided here.″

Chet Ellis, executive director of the center, said he agreed to supply the regalia so the poster would not appear ″cartoonish.″

″If I thought I was offensive, I would not have participated,″ Ellis said. Several area Indians let the Chiefs borrow items worn in the photo.

Troy Swallow of the Winnebago nation in Independence said he helped paint the players’ faces to keep the poster from becoming ″too Hollywood.″

And Will Simpson, an alcohol and drug counselor at the Indian center likes the idea.

″It’s good for the children’s self-esteem to see the poster,″ he said. ″They know the stuff the players had on is the real thing.″

But, other Indians say the poster is insulting, nonetheless.

″Our symbolism is not for sale, regardless of the intentions,″ said Preston Tone-Pah-Hote.

″The bottom line is you don’t reduce a group of people to the position of a mascot,″ said Imani Bazzell of the Coalition for a New Tradition, a group trying to force the University of Illinois to drop its chief mascot.

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The poster idea came from Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, who is known for supporting literacy programs, and from his Chicago-based agent, Nancy Mitchell.

″This is really hard,″ Mitchell said. ″We went out of our way to make everything right.″

Another poster shows Thomas alone, wearing beads and feathers.

Both posters are selling well nationally, said a spokesman for Costaco Brothers Inc., a Seattle company that printed and distributes them.