The Chiefs got their controversial name from a Kansas City mayor who went by 'Chief' and insisted on the team being named after himself

AP Photo/Jeff RobersonNeither the origin of the Kansas City Chiefs nor its namesake is rooted in Native American tradition, according to journalist Vincent Schilling.
  • A recent Twitter thread and article from Native journalist Vincent Schilling shed light on the problematic origin story of the Kansas City Chiefs’ name.
  • Schilling wrote that the Chiefs’ moniker came from former Kansas City mayor Harold Roe Bartle, a white man who founded a “fake Indian Boy Scout tribe” and adopted the nickname “Chief” as his own.
  • As mayor, Bartle lured the former Dallas Texans to Kansas City and lobbied for the team to be named in his honour.
  • Schilling argues that the team’s traditions were never intended to uplift or honour Native American populations and tribes.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Kansas City Chiefs are in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years, but not everyone is keen on supporting the AFC Champions.

It’s no secret that the Chiefs – much like Washington’s NFL franchise – boast a controversial name oft critiqued for appropriating Native American culture, but a recent Twitter thread from Native journalist Vincent Schilling shed light on the problematic origin story of the Kansas City franchise’s moniker.

According to Schilling’s article in Indian Country Today, the Chiefs got their name from a non-Native man. Harold Roe Bartle – a white business man who eventually became a two-term mayor of Kansas City – was responsible for the team’s move to Kansas City and its designation after founding the Tribe of Mic-O-Say, a Boy Scouts of America-affiliated troop.

The Boy Scouts claim that Bartle spent a lot of time with Native Americans on their lands and wanted to honour and incorporate Native traditions into scouting by founding the Tribe of Mic-O-Say, which still exists today. Schilling, however, described the group as a “fake Indian Boy Scout tribe.” He wrote that according to a “traditional Mic-O-Say legend,” Bartle “was inducted into a local tribe of the Arapaho people” and “was also given the name Lone Bear by an Arapaho chief.” From then on, Bartle was known as Chief Lone Bear within Mic-O-Say circles, and eventually the nickname “Chief” caught on among people throughout Kansas City.

Norma Hunt, left, and her son Clark Hunt, centre, owners of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, second right, celebrate after the NFL AFC Championship football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Kansas City, MO. The Chiefs won 35-24 to advance to Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)Associated PressNorma Hunt (left) and Clark Hunt (centre) — the owners of the Kansas City Chiefs — accept the Lamar Hunt Trophy after the Chiefs won the 2020 AFC Championship game.

Towards the end of his tenure as mayor in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bartle managed to lure the then-Dallas Texans from the Lone Star State to the City of Fountains and lobbied for the team to be renamed in honour of his own nickname. According to a 2016 article in The Kansas City Star, “‘Chiefs’ popped up time and again in a name-the-team contest.”

Eventually, the team’s general manager Jack Steadman told owner Lamar Hunt “There’s just no other name we can select.”

To this day, Kansas City’s NFL team retains the controversial name, with fans showing their support for superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes and company by wearing traditional Native American garb such as feathers and headdresses. The Chiefs even play in Arrowhead Stadium, another nod to a Native American culture that has no definitive connection with the team itself, its ownership, or its founding.

The Tomahawk chop, a Kansas City tradition that involves a hand gesture simulating the movement of a tomahawk, is yet another aspect of team tradition adopted from Native American culture.

Chiefs fansAP Photo/Charlie NeibergallKansas City Chiefs fans pose outside of Arrowhead Stadium.

As of 2018, multiple renowned health organisations – including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, American Sociological Association, and the American Psychological Association – had condemned the Chiefs and other professional sports teams for their use of “racist mascots,” names, imagery, and traditions. Major Native American organisations universally denounce the Washington D.C.-based NFL team’s name as a slur, and while the Kansas City name is not quite as extreme an offence, it still classifies as cultural appropriation among many Natives, according to Native American student newspaper The Indian Leader.

In a Twitter thread summarizing the origin story of the Kansas City Chiefs’ name, Schilling underscored the point that none of the team’s traditions were ever intended to uplift or honour Native American populations and tribes. And while he supports the rights of fans to cheer for the Chiefs as well as the players who work tirelessly to achieve their athletic feats, he insists “that you not argue at me to change my position. Or tell me I should not be offended and be honoured.”

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