- By Ben Pryor
From art unveilings to historic dance performances, Indian Country and Native American culture have been on full display in the run-up to Super Bowl LVII this weekend in Glendale, Arizona.
Expect even more Indigenous influences — including a mascot protest — to be woven throughout the events leading up to and into Sunday’s big game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs. Before the two teams take the field, Native talents will be painted (literally) across your television screens. Here’s a rundown of some of the Native activity and influences.
Indigenous artist Lucinda “La Morena” Hinojos (Xicana, Apache, Yaqui) created the official artwork for the Super Bowl LVII theme, which is featured on each of the 60,000 tickets for the game as well as on the game ball and around the stadium. She is the first Native artist to be selected by the NFL for such a position. As well, she is also collaborating with Wilson Sporting Goods on a football design.
Hinojos’ Super Bowl artwork incorporates numerous Native elements. She pays homage to the Akimel O’Odham’s heritage and homeland with a basket at the base of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. To the right of the trophy is a Fancy Shawl dancer. In the foreground of the piece are the White Tank Mountains, which flank Phoenix to the west. Painted on the mountains are 22 diamonds that represent each of Arizona’s 22 tribes. The corn stalks represent the land before the development of the surrounding infrastructure, including State Farm Stadium. Corn represents the staple food source for many Native communities throughout North America, while the hummingbird represents a messenger for her Apache community.
The NFL also commissioned Hinojos to complete a 9,500-square-foot mural – the largest in Super Bowl history – with the help of other Indigenous artists Randy Barton (Diné/Navajo), Anitra Molina (Yaqui), and Carrie Curley (San Carlos Apache) at the Monarch Theatre in downtown Phoenix. The mural is scheduled to be completed ahead of game day on Feb. 8.
The artwork symbolizes Indigenous collaboration emphasizing the narrative of community and unity.
For the first time in history, the NFL will read a land acknowledgment before the Super Bowl after Hinojos introduced the idea to the NFL.
“We believe it is consistent with our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion to acknowledge the sovereignty and the traditional territories of these tribal communities and understand the historical and current experience of native peoples,” executive vice president of Club Business and League Events for the NFL Peter O’Reilly said at a welcoming news conference on Monday.
Collin Denny (Diné) will sign “America the Beautiful” during the pre-game ceremony. Denny will blend American Sign Language and North American Indian Sign Language in the performance. Denny is from the Water Flowing Together People Clan and was born into the Coyote Pass People Clan.
“There are a thousand opportunities across the nation for everyone, including us Navajos. As a Diné, we are a largely rural community within the four corners, and its education for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) can be challenging,” Denny wrote to Native News Online. “We have Diné people who are DHH across the nation. Communication is an important part of every family member, and they need to be aware of not leaving them out of the loophole. Access to the reservation is not being provided compared to the city.”
On the Field
For the third year in a row, the NFL has been ‘hoisted by their own petard,’ following their “End Racism” campaign to fight systemic racism in the US.
For years, the Kansas City Chiefs have been embattled with various groups to change their name, which was conceived by a white man who impersonated Native American culture. On Sunday, there is a protest planned outside the stadium by Arizona to Rally Against Native Mascots. Native nonprofit Illuminative has collected nearly 17,000 signatures on an online petition to get the Kansas City football team to change its name and imagery.
There will be at least three Native Americans on the field during the game.
Kansas City Chiefs long snapper and Choctaw Nation citizen James Winchester will represent Indian Country during the game.
“We’re so excited to see James Winchester, a Choctaw tribal member, again in the Super Bowl,” Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton told Native News Online. “In the Choctaw Nation, we have what I call the Chahta Spirit. This means you are resilient, responsible, compassionate, hardworking, and honest, among other things. James embodies every element of the Chahta Spirit. His dedication to faith, family, and culture is why he continues to excel at football – and life.”
Kansas City Chiefs Center and Potawatomi Nation citizen Creed Humphrey will also represent Indian Country on the field.
“On behalf of its 38,416 citizens, the government of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation expresses its extreme pride in the accomplishments and talents of our fellow tribesman, Creed Humphrey,” Potawatomi Nation Chairman John ‘Rocky’ Barrett said. “He is a great role model for the youth of our Tribal Nation and a wonderful example for all people, demonstrating that achieving your greatest dream is possible through talent honed by hard work, intelligence, and dedication. We have no doubt that his Super Bowl LVII appearance will be one of many for this outstanding athlete and Native American hero.”
The NFL has also chosen Cherokee Nation citizen Jerod Phillips as a down-judge official for the game. Phillips is the second Native American ever to officiate the Super Bowl, behind Chickasaw Nation citizen Mike Weatherford at Super Bowl XLV in 2011.
“Cherokee Nation citizens continue to succeed in many different roles and industries across the world, and that includes the realm of professional sports,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement. “The Cherokee Nation is extremely proud of Jerod for becoming the first official to represent the tribe in a Super Bowl. This is one of many accomplishments he has already garnered in an outstanding professional career.”
Off the Field
The NFL has designated four local Native American communities as Official Super Bowl Host Committee Partners: Ak-Chin Indian Community, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Gila River Indian Communities, and Tohono O’odham Nation. Representatives of the tribes welcomed both teams as they arrived in Arizona.
The Eagles are reportedly staying at the Sheraton Grand resort in the Gila River Indian Community.
As well, Nedallas Hammill (Diné, Ho-Chunk) will perform a hoop dance for NFL executives at the Super Bowl on Sunday. Hammill was the 2020 Teen World Champion Native American hoop dancer.
As part of the Inspire Change social justice campaign, the NFL is partnering with local community organizations, including Native American Connections, to provide laptops to hundreds of Native children.
The Super Bowl will be played at State Farm Stadium on Sunday, February 12, 2023, and will be broadcast on FOX at 5:30 pm CST.
Ben Pryor (Choctaw) is a contributing writer to Native News Online and freelance writer for several other national and regional publications. A graduate of Oklahoma State University, his writing interests include politics, the environment and sports.
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