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Published Saturday, February 17, 2001
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WNCCEIB NOTE: See Letters to Editor in response from Buncombe County mascot group members

Indian mascots secure for now?

Panel: As long as behavior inoffensive


The N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs wants Indian mascots eliminated from public schools by 2003.

However, the group isn't pressing the issue - unless a school or a fan behaves in a manner the group views as offensive to Native Americans.

"When they use things like a tomahawk chop, face paint or a war whoop, that makes us look like we're warlike," said Earlene Stacks of Charlotte, the commission's vice chairman, and board member of the Metrolina Native American Association. "Movies have stereotyped us, and we're not like that.

"I haven't seen a concerted effort against the schools, unless they were doing something offensive along with the name."

The commission last year passed a resolution to eliminate Indian mascots at N.C. public schools by 2003.

Nineteen of the 334 schools in the N.C. High School Athletic Association have nicknames pertaining to Native Americans, including six Observer-area schools.

West Mecklenburg and Hickory's St. Stephens teams are called Indians, and West Caldwell, East Gaston, Weddington and West Iredell are Warriors.

Two weeks ago, the Buncombe County Board of Education ruled it wouldn't consider changing Warriors as Erwin High's mascot. The board learned it had fulfilled its obligations from a 1999 settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, which had conducted a civil rights investigation.

Erwin dropped Squaws as the nickname for girls' teams, but retained Warriors for boys' teams. The school also removed religious symbols that were identified as being offensive or disrespectful to American Indians, and war paint from an image on a mural.

Mascots alone haven't put other schools under pressure to change.

"Our mascot is something we use to honor," West Mecklenburg Principal Gary Evans said. "We're doing the right thing, we've had nothing but good sportsmanship. We're on Tuckaseegee Road, the heart of where Indians were."

Evans said he's received no complaints, and recalls only one alumnus suggesting the nickname be changed.

West Caldwell, in Lenoir, has used Warriors since the school opened in 1977.

"The kids are proud of the nickname, and no one has ever said a word about it," said West Caldwell Principal Donnie Bassinger. "Our girls' teams are Lady Warriors. It's never been a topic of conversation. You have to respect what it stands for - that's the bottom line."

Ronnie Matthews, executive director of the S.C. High School League, which includes 200 schools, said he hasn't heard any objections to nicknames pertaining to Native Americans.

"We have two schools in Charleston called Warriors, and there's the Gaffney Indians," Matthews said. "I coached 16 years at Stall, and we were called Warriors. It certainly wasn't a slur or slam against Indians. They were warriors. And we haven't heard of any behavior that has offended anyone."

Rick Strunk, NCHSAA associate executive director, said a handful of high schools have changed names in the past 20 years.

"We've had some move away from Rebels, including Monroe, which switched to Redhawks," Strunk said. "We wouldn't want anyone to have a nickname that's offensive, or act that way. But we haven't had requests for changes. A lot of the Native Indian logos on (football) helmets are profiles."

A school's nickname normally is determined by its local school board, Strunk said. Most of the N.C. schools use animal references - Panthers, Tigers, Bears, Wildcats, Eagles, etc.

Universities that have changed nicknames include Marquette (from Warriors to Golden Eagles), Stanford (Indians to Cardinal), St. John's (Redmen to Red Storm), Dartmouth (Indians to Big Green) and Miami, Ohio (Redskins to RedHawks).

The Los Angeles and Dallas school systems have eliminated Native American team names.

"Warriors and Braves are kind of complimentary," said Stacks, a Lumbee Indian. "Redskins, I find offensive. Indians, well it depends on what they do with that. But really, we've got more problems to deal with, like keeping our kids in school, than what the school's nickname is."

Robersonville's Roanoke High is one of two N.C. schools with Redskins as its nickname. Principal Darlene Mobley said she recently received a letter from a national organization urging a change.

"It's something I feel we'll probably end up moving toward," she said. "I have discussed it to some extent with our people here. It's not a derogatory intention. I understand the concern, but we had always seen Redskins as a pride thing, strong people who'd fight for what they believed in."

Mobley said it would be cost prohibitive for Roanoke, a Class 1A school, to change uniforms in every sport all at once. She said there's been discussion of switching to Chiefs, which would match the logo of a Native American chieftain.

About 2,000 of North Carolina's 80,000 Native Americans live in Mecklenburg County.

"Sometimes we're just offended in a way," Stacks said. "People think there are no Indians anymore, or if there are, they're all out west."

WNCCEIB NOTE: See Letters to Editor in response from Buncombe County mascot group members

Reach Cliff Mehrtens at (704) 358-5121 or cmehrtens@charlotte Staff writer Marion Paynter contributed to this article.

"The kids are proud of the nickname, and no one has ever said a word about it. Our girls' teams are Lady Warriors. It's never been a topic of conversation. You have to respect what it stands for."

Donna Bassinger
Principal West Caldwell High

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