Cyclocross

Campaign and Petition Launched to Change the Name of the Dirty Kanza Gravel Race – Cyclocross Magazine

Today, Christina Torres and Cyclista Zine launched a change.org campaign and petition for Life Time Fitness to change the name of the Dirty Kanza gravel race.

While the country’s struggle to contain COVID-19 makes it no sure thing that the rescheduled-for-September event will even take place, Torres is hoping that if it does happen, it’s under a different name.

Why change the name of the iconic gravel race through Kansas? Isn’t it just a fun play on words to describe a dirty ride through Kansas? Many have made this assumption innocently, and we’re guilty of doing this as well, but for an important population of Native Americans, the term only serves as a hurtful, degrading name and a painful reminder of genocide.

Now you know.

With that knowledge, does such a name conjure up images only of innocent two-wheel suffering? Torres hopes not. By informing the unaware and offering up an important American history lesson, she hopes others will join her call for Life Time and race founder Jim Cummins to rename the event and sign her petition on change.org.

A gravel race name change away from an offensive name would not be unprecedented. The race formerly known as Land Run, rebranded its race as the Mid South this year, stating its motivation was to “bring awareness to the oppression that minority groups face.” [Ironically, by running during March, it also arguably contributed to the spread of the COVID-19, a virus that has disproportionately impacted minorities.]

Cyclocross Magazine connected with Torres after discovering her campaign to learn more about her mission to rid gravel racing from the derogatory term.

See our brief Q & A below.

Cyclocross Magazine: How did this campaign come about?

Christina Torres: The #CHANGETHENAME petition stems out of a growing discomfort by the cycling community of the event’s title, “Dirty Kanza”, which translates to “dirty Indian”, a slur Natives are acquainted with. The discomfort with the event title stems from a lack of acknowledgment of the offensive use of “dirty” that prefaces a Native nation’s name, even if a nickname, and fails to act upon the pleas of the cycling community to change the name.

The history of Kanza is that it is a nickname for the Kaw Nation, the “People of the South Wind,” who lived in Kansas long before settlers arrived. The Kaw were the predominant tribe in what became the state to which they gave their name, Kansas. Their territory extended over most of present-day northern and eastern Kansas, where the Dirty Kanza event rides through broken treaty land.

Kansas was named after the Kanza people, but cyclists should stop associating them with the word dirty, urges Torres. photo: Joanne Sullivan

The Kaw Nation of Kansas, now of Oklahoma, has survived adversity and today is a federally-recognized self-governing tribe seeking to recover its cultural heritage and land. To preface the Kanza people with “Dirty” shows a disconnect of America’s legacy of anti-Indigenous violence.

It is not our intent to cause harm to the Kaw Nation or DK event organizers or participants. We just ask that they are aware of the harm that’s associated with the event name and change it.

CXM: What is your connection to the Kanza people? 

CT: Kaw relatives’ history and struggles are experienced and felt across all Native Nations and peoples and we want to amplify the problematic nature of appropriating and perpetuating stereotypes Native culture. As a Kuwaissu Shoshone Paiute descendant of the Tejon Tribe, this is also very personal for me as an avid cyclist and Native American where our representation in cycling is invisible as with most issues in this country. My tribe was one of those tribes that were called dirty, [which] was used to justify enslavement, scalp bounties, and dispossession of land.

The Kaw Nation of Kansas, now of Oklahoma, has survived adversity and today is a federally-recognized self-governing tribe seeking to recover its cultural heritage and land. Slurs attached to tribal names are rooted in the unconscious bias that Native people are no longer here and may be exploited. Invisibility is a modern form of racism against Native people. Research shows that the lack of exposure to realistic, contemporary, and humanizing portrayals of Native people creates a deep and stubborn unconscious bias in the non-Native mind that is harmful.

CXM: Many people have been campaigning for the Washington Redskins NFL team to be renamed. Do you see this as a similar situation? Does the term “dirty” make it even worse?

CT: The NFL’s use of the Redskins is a dictionary-defined slur just like “dirty.” Both terms of redskin and dirty originated from the practice of settlers collecting bloody Native scalps for bounty in the late 1800s. Colonizers called Native people “the dirtiest lot of human beings on earth.” They described Indians as dressed in “filthy rags, with their persons unwashed, hair uncombed and swarming with vermin.” The MLB has a team called the Indians, and their mascot is Chief Wahoo, a grotesque red-faced “Indian” caricature.

Native activists have been protesting these mascots, names, and pointing out their degrading impacts since the 1960s. Many have tried to label these campaigns to change names and mascots as a politically correct crusade or a liberal cause, thus diminishing and erasing the Native cause, but that’s their goal. Native mascot supporters don’t want to hear or see real Natives — they apparently prefer their Natives fake and mute, rendered how they see fit and that’s the real issue, they don’t care.

CXM: Have you approached Lifetime and Jim Cummins? If so, what was their response?

CT: Cyclista Zine along with many other folks and groups in cycling have been raising awareness on our platforms and directly tagging the organization. We have not had any response. We’ve been told by industry insiders that event organizers, sponsors, and event organizers and owners Jim Cummins and Life Time, have been directly notified of the problematic nature of the event and have chosen to not act. Whether they are intentionally being silent or not, we find this complicity as intent harm and have to call it out.

CXM: Besides how we name events, how can cycling be more inclusive of indigenous people?

To non-Natives who really want to honor Natives, start out with a land acknowledgment at your events, in your articles, and talk about the history of the land, the original stewards and your relationship to the land.

The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture offers a resource called “Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgment,” created in consultation with more than a dozen Natives from various nations who recognized that while acknowledgment is common in indigenous spaces, it may be a new practice for non-Natives. The great resource Native-Land.ca is a good starting place.

Also talk and learn about the Native people where you live or where you will be riding, visit their cultural center and leave a donation. If you’re writing about the land, find Native groups and learn how they’d like to be acknowledged. This reciprocal relationship will help you learn about the history of the land and present-day challenges tribes are facing. While the history books may not tell you everything, colonization is an ongoing process for many Indigenous people. We are still here, and our lands are still occupied and treaties are still being broken. In learning to acknowledge this, we can take a first step on the long road toward reconciliation.

Many gravel events traverse land with rich, storied Native history. photo: Olivia Dillon, 2019 DK 200 Gravel Race. © Z. Schuster / Cyclocross Magazine

Another way we can include Indigenous people in cycling is by telling their stories and including them in our representations in cycling. Native people are alive and relevant in cycling, and we have a lot to say about it too.

CXM: Thank you for the education and for being a champion of Indigenous people.

CT: Thank you!

You can read or sign Torres’ petition on change.org here.

We’ve reached out to DK200’s Jim Cummins. Stay tuned.

Featured photo: Z. Schuster, 2018.