NEWSROOM for February 18, 1999
Aired February 18, 1999 - 4:30 a.m. ET
TONY FRASSRAND, CO-HOST: Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM,
everybody. The week is just cruising by. It's already Thursday. I'm Tony.
Cassandra is off today, but the news goes on. Here's what's ahead.
Finally, in our "Newsroom Chronicle," a controversy over using Native
American names for school sports teams.
HOCHMUTH: At Erwin, the boys teams are known as the "Warriors." The
girls are the "Squaws," terms some Native Americans find offensive.
BRUCE TWO EAGLES, NATIVE AMERICAN INTERTRIBAL
ASSOCIATION: If you, at any time, put a team out and called them the
"Blackskins," that would be gone in a heartbeat. Or if you called them -- like
the "Louisiana Kikes," you know that the Jewish community would jump up
and down. But it's OK to parade us around and harass us as far as our
spiritual life goes.
HOCHMUTH: For over two years, Two Eagles and his local group the
Native American Intertribal Association have been pushing to change the
TWO EAGLES: And yes, you can sit and say: Politically correct has gone
overboard. But when you hurt people, how many times do you have to say
"ouch" before you know it hurts.
HOCHMUTH: But unlike at other colleges and schools around the country,
the board of education here has refused to change.
That's fine with Billy Carter who has lived here his whole life and graduated
from Erwin nearly 30 years ago.
CARTER: This school and these kids are our life and it just seems we're
going to be cheated out of our heritage and history if we have to give this up.
It was done strictly in a vein of admiration. No disrespect intended. No
funning -- we weren't poking fun at anyone.
HOCHMUTH: Defenders of the mascots argue the school has tried to use
them tastefully. Even at a typical home game, the team names are not
obvious: they're not on the game uniforms; there's no costumed mascot;
about the only places you will find them are on a few signs, and in an
ROGER AIKEN, BUNCOMBE COUNTY SCHOOLS: I do not believe
that they have used a lot of language or a lot of symbols that a lot of other
people are using that some people find offensive. And quite honestly, I
believe that's one of the things behind the debate.
HOCHMUTH: On campus it's a different story. Most obvious is a 20-foot
replica of a Native American warrior, then there's this totem pole and a
series of murals throughout interior hallways. All are particularly offensive to
some local Native Americans.
Don Merzlak sent five children to Erwin and he has two more in grade
DON MERZLAK, PARENT: I don't have to take my kids to the Cleveland
Indians game. I don't have to take my kids to the Atlanta Braves baseball
game, but I do have to take my kids to school.
HOCHMUTH (on camera): The controversy at Erwin High School has
taken on national significance. The U.S. Department of Justice is now
investigating the case and this marks the first time it has gotten involved in
such disputes over school mascots.
Here, both sides agree that changes everything.
(voice-over): Until now, the board of education left the mascot issue up
students. Twice this last year, they voted to keep them as is.
Board member Roger Aiken concedes things are different now with the
federal government involved.
AIKEN: When you realize that we -- this school system gets eight to 10
million dollars a year in federal funding and that obviously is threatened, it
definitely changes the debate and moves it to a much higher level.
TWO EAGLES: This is the most incredible thing to have happened to the
Indian people, as far as this issue goes, in many, many years. And yes, this is
a very positive sign because what it's saying to other Indians is: We
recognize you as human beings.
HOCHMUTH: While students themselves remain divided on the issue, all
seem to agree they're just plain tired of the whole controversy.
HEATHER RAMSEY, AGE 17: At first, I did have my set opinion. You
know, I wanted it to stay, I wanted the Squaw mascot to stay, as far as
tradition and everything goes, but now I'm just ready for it to just be over.
AMANDA SPROUSE, AGE 18: The issue that we're offending people is a
serious issue, but the fact that it is a mascot, I feel, that that's just, to put it
bluntly, stupid and that we are wasting our time over it.
CHIP CARTER, AGE 16: For my friends, that go to other schools in this
county that I know, it's not worth taking away their education -- taking away
money that could further their education.
HOCHMUTH: For that reason, the days of warriors and Squaws at Erwin
may be numbered. There are estimates it could cost a half- million dollars to
defend the names, but it's not certain the school board would authorize that
kind of money. That's a blow to long-time supporters.
CARTER: Sometimes you got to stand up, especially when you're right, and
that's one thing I'll declare until the day I die. The Erwin community, the
Erwin students and this high school have done nothing wrong over the past
45 years and if we use the Indians as our mascot for the next 45, we'd still
be doing nothing wrong.
TWO EAGLES: People are going to have to learn to accept, to get on with
their lives, to grow and to change and restore human dignity. Is that too
much to ask?
FRASSRAND: School board members will hold a public hearing about the
mascots Monday. After that, they'll decide how to respond to the
government inquiry. There's also a possibility they could choose to do away
with the mascots altogether, without a fight. We, of course, will keep you
That's it for today guys. What do you say we do it again tomorrow? Same
time, same place, I'll be here. See you then.