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Controversy and nuance in gravel racing: Why the Mid South rebranded but Dirty Kanza did not

A petition gained more than a thousand signatures calling for Kanza's name change before it was retracted by its creators

This year, one of the biggest gravel races in America changed its name from ‘the Land Run 100’ to ‘the Mid South’. The organizers had received complaints about the history of the Oklahoma land run, an event that displaced tens of thousands of Native Americans from their land and resulted in the death of thousands of Native Americans.

RELATED: Why the Land Run 100 changed its name to the Mid South

Bobby Wintle, the race’s organizer admitted he did not know this aspect of the land run’s history when he created the event, but in a letter on the Mid South’s website he expressed his regret for making anyone feel unwelcome. He apologized for the name and rebranded the event.

Wintle and Mid South organizers were praised by many in the cycling community for the decision. The conversation also brought forward some criticism of other gravel events, Dirty Kanza in particular.

A petition

Last week, Cyclista Zine posted a petition calling for a name change of Dirty Kanza. According to the petition: “Kanza is a nickname for the Kaw Nation, the “People of the South Wind,” who lived in Kansas long before white 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 DK rides through broken treaty land.”

Photo: EF Education First Pro Cycling

They argued that the use of the word ‘Dirty’ placed before the word Kanza, “shows a disconnect of the history of place, violence, and colonization that has been justified with terms like ‘dirty’ that is connected to America’s Legacy of anti-Indigenous violence.”

The petition gained over a thousand signatures and dozens of comments supporting the movement.

“I’m signing because the implicit racism of this race name, though completely unintended, is unacceptable,” said one comment.

“The right thing to do and very easy. I enjoy these types of events. Till change is made I won’t be coming to this one,” said another.

One petition signer suggested looking at how others have proceeded, “Follow the example of Mid-South and change the name. History is not on your side.”

“If the industry and gravel racing community value inclusivity it is imperative that we reject racism and discriminatory language wherever it rears its head. Native people’s wishes need to be honored.”

The movement started to gain momentum and was shared in social media circles throughout the North American cycling world.

A statement

On Apr. 21, the petition was closed by Cyclista Zine. Life Time, the organizers of Dirty Kanza, and Lynn Williams, the Chairwoman of the Kaw Nation had released a joint statement, announcing that the name of the Dirty Kanza gravel race will remain as is.

“It was felt that ‘Kanza’ paid homage to the region (the Kanza Prairie), to its rich history, and to all things associated with the region, including the Kaw Nation,” says the letter.

Race co-founder Jim Cummins says they met with members of the Kaw Nation Tribal Council in February 2019 to ensure there would be an open dialogue regarding the event.

Cannondale Dirty Kanza 200
Image: Wil Matthews

“Life Time and the Kaw Nation are proud of our relationship, which is built upon mutual respect, dignity, and integrity,” the letter reads. “Life Time and the Kaw Nation are proud to stand alongside one another as Dirty Kanza pursues its mission to provide life-enriching experiences to event participants and to build community.”

The letter references the fact that over 150 corporations in the state of Kansas that use ‘Kanza’ as part of their name, and notes that ‘Dirt’ is, “not intended to be a negative term, but rather a badge of honor.”

“As true believers in tribal sovereignty and self-determination, we feel that it’s important to honor the decisions of Tribal leadership,” said Cyclista Zine in their post on the petition page. “We hope that Life Time and the Kaw Nation will continue to incorporate Indigenous recognition and history into the event moving forward.”