Exeter Chiefs For Change. Campaigning for an end to the use of Indigenous Peoples' imagery and branding

About us

We are Exeter Chiefs For Change (EC4C), a group of Exeter Chiefs supporters and rugby fans working with Indigenous individuals and groups, who successfully campaigned for Exeter Rugby Club to end its misappropriation of Indigenous peoples’ imagery: this includes the logo, the use of headdresses, the “tomahawk chop” chant, and the names of bars and stalls at Exeter’s home ground, Sandy Park (which include ‘Wigwam’, ‘Mohawk’, and ‘Cheyenne’).

On the 27th January 2022, Exeter Chiefs introduced a new visual identity based on the Celtic Iron Age Dumnonii Tribe which would come into effect from July 2022. 

We are not asking the club to change its name. There is a history of clubs in Devon referring to their first team as the “chiefs”. Check out our Drawing Board page to see some of the ways that Exeter could #ChangeTheChief and choose a chief that represents the area’s own rich history – add your ideas to the board by tagging us @ExChiefs4Change and using the hashtag #ChangeTheChief on social media! 

You can follow us @exchiefs4change on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn where we share resources and amplify Indigenous voices. Show your support and tell us why you think Exeter Chiefs should change by using the hashtag #ChangeTheChief and follow the hashtag #NotYourMascot for more information about the movement to end Native mascots. You can also find our petition at change.org/exeterchiefs and please visit our Take Action page to find out more about how you can support our campaign.

Latest News

  • On 27th January 2022, Exeter Chiefs released a statement declaring they will stop using Native American branding and introducing their new logo
  • Following the AGM on the 24th November, it is widely reported that Exeter Chiefs are set to rebrand despite the club stating that no decision has yet been made
  • Watch our “The Story So Far” video, with just a fraction of the media coverage and Indigenous voices asking for change 
  • The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has written to Exeter Chiefs rugby club to ask them to end their use of misappropriated Native-style imagery in their branding. This statement from the oldest, largest and most representative group of American Indian and Alaska Natives marks a significant point in the campaign. Read the letter here

Logo

The Exeter Chiefs logo is an image of a stereotype of a nameless “chief”. This stereotype is often the only way that Indigenous peoples are portrayed – as “warriors” from the past. This stereotype dehumanises, erases cultural identity and reduces visibility of actual Native people and also has proven harmful effects on wellbeing and mental health, particularly of Native youth, in studies including that by Dr Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip). This contributes to other issues including high suicide rates and the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).

Headdress

The headdress or warbonnet is a sacred item, bestowed as a great honour only to certain individuals to recognise specific achievements, with meaning attributed to individual feathers. Many tribes do not use headdresses and those that do have different designs so it is inaccurate to use it as a generalisation Their misuse as a fancy dress item is deemed offensive by 70% of Indigenous people surveyed (source: IllumiNative) and they have been banned at Glastonbury and other festivals as well as by Washington Football Club and Kansas City Chiefs.

Tomahawk chop

The “Tomahawk chop” chant has its roots in Florida State University’s “fight song” which includes a reference to “scalping”. The chant was adopted by other US teams with Native branding in the 1990s and eventually by Exeter Chiefs in the 2000s. The mockery of a “war chant” and accompanying “chopping” motion is considered offensive due to the portrayal of Native people as violent “savages” and has no roots in any Native culture or traditions. It has been protested against in the US throughout its use and most teams have now distanced themselves from it.

The story so far

Exeter Rugby club was formed in 1871 but rebranded to Exeter Chiefs and introduced the Native imagery in 1999 as part of efforts to increase commercialisation.

Concerns have been raised about Native mascots in the US for many decades, with one of the earliest campaigns starting in 1968.

Campaigns in the US against the names, mascots, logos or other aspects of specific teams, including Washington R*dskins (now Washington Football Team), Cleveland Indians (now Cleveland Guardians), Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves and hundreds of school and college teams go as far back as the 1990s and beyond. They reached a peak in the late 2010s and into the 2020s with several teams announcing name changes, dropping mascots and distancing themselves from other misappropriated Native-style imagery.

Media coverage on issues with Exeter Chiefs’ branding goes back to at least 2016, with several academics and others raising it over the years, including in the New York Times, BBC and Devon Live.

Exeter Chiefs for Change formed in June 2020, with a campaign to #ChangeTheChief. The petition at change.org/exeterchiefs quickly gained momentum following heightened awareness of the decades-long campaigns by Native Americans to end the use of Native mascots fuelled by the Washington NFL team finally agreeing to retire its racial slur team name.

In July 2020 the Exeter Rugby Club board of directors agreed to review its brand as a result of the campaign and petition and following extensive regional, national and international news coverage. The campaign provided the club with extensive evidence of the offence and harm caused by the type of racial stereotyping used in the branding, but the board decided to retain the rest of the brand; including the “tomahawk chop” chant, the fans’ misuse of the headdress, and the club “chief” logo, deemed by Exeter Chiefs’ board of directors to be “in fact highly respectful“. They only decided to retire the match-day mascot “Big Chief”.

The campaign continued through 2020 and into 2021 with successes including BT Sport deciding not to use the “Tomahawk chop” chant in its manufactured crowd noise for closed-doors games during the pandemic, and Channel 5 and production company Dazn removing the the inappropriate use of headdresses from the opening credits of their weekly Premiership Rugby Highlights show cutting the headdress from the title sequence.

Most recently, Wasps Rugby Club confirmed that they had raised the issue with the Premiership and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) – the two governing bodies for the league / sport in England. They also discouraged Exeter fans from wearing headdresses to the Wasps v Exeter game in October.

Exeter Chiefs chief executive and chairman Tony Rowe stated in an interview with the Guardian, published on 15 October 2021, that the issue would be on the agenda at the club’s AGM on 24 November for members to vote whether to change the branding or not.

as featured in

Our campaign has garnered significant media coverage and our team has been interviewed by several media outlets, including: the BBC, ITV, BT Sport, ESPN, CNN, Sky Sports, The Times, The Telegraph, Guardian, LBC, TalkSport and L’Equipe amongst other local, national and global news outlets.

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