Cree dancer from Canada part of group of Indigenous dancers performing at Super Bowl

This year’s game will be held at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Mitsuing has been in Phoenix for the past week and attended various pre-game celebrations, including an appearance on Monday’s opening night of Super Bowl week.

On matchday, a group of about eight dancers, including Mitsuing, will give three performances outside the stadium to welcome the game’s crowd of around 70,000. It is unclear whether it will be televised.

Dancers will showcase their respective regalia and dance styles. Mitsuing does men’s dance that is eye-catching, colorful and full of energy.

The performance is part of the NFL’s collaboration with some Arizona indigenous groups and efforts to recognize who originally occupied the land hosting this year’s event.

The Super Bowl is taking place in a state home to 22 Native American tribes who collectively oversee about a quarter of the land base.

Lucinda Hinojos, a Glendale native of Apache and Yaqui descent, became the first Native American and Chicana artist to partner with the NFL for Super Bowl-themed art. Your designs will be featured on all Super Bowl tickets and throughout the NFL experience. She is also collaborating with Wilson Sporting Goods to release a football with her artwork on it.

Colin Denny, a researcher at the University of Arizona and a member of the Navajo Nation, will perform “America the Beautiful” during the game’s pre-show. Denny, who is deaf, will use both American Sign Language and North American Native American Sign Language.

The league is also expected to read out a country confirmation before the game begins.

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“They really create space for us,” Mitsuing said.

Mitsuing was hired about a month ago to take part in the celebrations. He said Super Bowl organizers contacted Indigenous Enterprise, a US-based company that preserves Indigenous culture through powwow song and dance performances, to collaborate on programming.

When he got the call, the first thing he did was let his feet do the talking: “I kept quiet and danced around. Then I said, ‘Yes, I will.’”

Mitsuing, who now resides in Red Deer, Alta, has spent his life and career dedicated to promoting his Cree culture and language.

“If I do that, I know some of the kids back home are going to dream pretty big,” he said.

Recognizing the contributions of Indigenous Peoples is something regularly seen at major sporting events in Canada, where the inclusion of land recognition and Indigenous programming is included in many NHL and CFL games. “It’s cool that we’re creating a framework,” Mitsuing said.

“It all started with truth and reconciliation. I think that movement in Canada has helped create spaces where we can be in really big spaces.”

He’s quick to add that this hasn’t extended to the Calgary Flames, who are the only Canadian NHL team not yet to include country recognition in pregame ceremonies.

“I encourage[the Calgary Flames]to think about their land recognition and get the people of Treaty 7 involved,” he said.

Since he’s been in Arizona, he’s heard from Native Americans that there is still much work to be done to educate Americans.

TMZ reported this week that a Scottsdale store owner interrupted an ESPN shoot for a Super Bowl commercial break to poke fun at Native American performers being caught on video. TMZ said police charged the store owner with three counts of disorderly conduct.

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Protesters are expected to gather outside the stadium on Sunday to urge the Kansas City Chiefs to abandon the team’s name and the fan-driven “tomahawk chop.”

The team has struggled to address concerns about cultural insensitivities dating back a decade, but is always reluctant to change the team name or fan-favorite gestures and chants.

Mitsuing said the absorption of indigenous culture and history has been positive. Celebrities and fans have reached out to him for questions about his insignia and for photos with him.

When asked who he’s cheering for on Sunday, he pauses with a chuckle: “I’m not a football fan at all.”

By Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg, with files from The Associated Press.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 11, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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