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School board: ‘Warrior’ issue is closed
By Clarke Morrison, STAFF WRITER
Posted: Feb 02 at 01:30 AM

ASHEVILLE – Despite some pleas to do otherwise, members of the Buncombe County Board of Education made it clear Thursday night they don’t plan to revisit the issue of American Indian imagery at Erwin High School.

The "Warriors" mascot will stay.

"It’s a closed matter," board Chairman Wendell Begley said. "We’ve done all we can do and it’s behind us.

"It’s been a very divisive issue. Hopefully some healing has taken place."

But Monroe Gilmour of the Mascot Education & Action Group urged the board to take another look at the matter.

"I know you say this is a closed issue," he said. "I hope that doesn’t mean you have closed minds or closed hearts."

The board learned recently that it had fulfilled its obligations stemming from the 1999 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice that ended a civil rights investigation into whether there was a "racially hostile environment" at Erwin.

The department said in a Jan. 19 letter it agreed the board had removed from the school religious symbols identified as offensive or disrespectful to American Indians.

Based on a report by Joyce Dugan, former chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, the school removed the "war paint" from the image of an Indian on a mural, better organized a display case containing Indian artifacts, and removed a bust depicting an American Indian, Superintendent Cliff Dodson said.

The school system was obligated to take the steps by a March 1999 settlement with the Justice Department in which the board agreed to eliminate any reference to "Squaw" as the mascot for the girls sports teams at Erwin.

The school was allowed to continue using "Warrior" for the mascot of the boys teams.

The mascot controversy divided the Erwin community. Some said it was degrading to use an ethnic group for a mascot, while others said the practice only shows heritage and pride.

Many school districts across the country have eliminated Indian mascots in recent years.

Bruce Two Eagles of the Buncombe County Intertribal Association told the board Thursday that he’s been in touch with leaders of Indian civil rights groups that believe an economic boycott of Buncombe County should take place over the matter.

But Isaac Welch, a local American Indian, said he supports the board’s stance on the mascot issue.

"You should not lower your standards to appease a few," he said. "My children have been treated with utmost respect. We will stand with you."

Speaking during the meeting’s public comment period, Gilmour posed several questions to the board:

Why is the board not giving serious consideration to a resolution passed last year by the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs calling for the elimination of Indian mascots at all public schools in North Carolina by June 30, 2003?

Why did the board ignore state Superintendent Mike Ward’s Feb. 9, 1998, recommendation that the Warrior andSquaw mascots be eliminated?

Why has the board not given a "professional, educational and curriculum-based rationale" for continuing the Indian sports mascot when American Indian psychological and educational organizations have pointed to the negative impact of such mascots on Indian performance and called for their elimination?

Why did the board not take into account more seriously the 90-3 vote by the Erwin High faculty to eliminate the mascots?

How can the board push a character education program in schools while "demonstrating just the opposite toward American Indians by allowing the disrespect which accompanies a sport mascot?"

How can the board promote an anti-bullying program when its decision to retain the mascot "encapsulates all the characteristics of bullying a minority?"

Contact Morrison at 232-5849 or

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NOTE: To send an email to the Buncombe County Board of Education expressing your feelings about this decision, please send via Superintendent Cliff Dodson

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