The Dugan Report on Indian Imagery at Clyde A. Erwin High School in Buncombe County, North Carolina

WNCCEIB's Background Note: As a result of the March 4, 1999 Agreement between the US Justice Department and the Buncombe County (NC) Public Schools, the Schools agreed, among other things, to permanently remove offensive American Indian imagery from the school.

In August 1999, Dr. Jace Weaver, Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale University was appointed by the US Justice Department in coordination with the School System to review the imagery at the school and identify imagery which should be removed.

His August 30, 1999 report was rejected by the Buncombe County Board of Education as "biased" and "too broad." Subsequently, the Board asked former Principal Chief of the Eastern Band Cherokee Nation to carry out the review and file a report. Chief Dugan had earlier endorsed and thereby made acceptable the compromise that allowed continued use of the "Warrior" mascot while eliminating the "Squaw" mascot. This report which is dated March 31, 2000 provided the basis for the Board receiving a Closure Letter from the US Justice Department on January 19, 2001.

The Board did not release this report to the public at its February 1, 2001 Board meeting when the Closure of the USJD involvement was announced. WNCCEIB obtained it upon reviewing the School System's files on the matter. WNCCEIB suspects that the Board was trying to avoid the public becoming aware that despite endorsing the perpetuation of the 'Warrior' mascot at Erwin, Chief Dugan's report also calls for the removal of the most "cherished" (and offensive) item of imagery: Erwin's 25' statue of an stereotypical Indian, often referred to as Erwin's "Lawn Jockey."

Chief Dugan's cover letter and full report is reproduced below in its entirety. Photos from the report will be added as quickly as possible and links to them added. While the Mascot Education and Action Group concludes the report appears, per the report's own words, more concerned with not "upsetting" the Erwin community than with fully dealing with the offensive imagery, we are pleased Chief Dugan has pointed out many of the same concerns the Intertribal Association and others across the country have noted about the misuse of American Indian imagery.

Finally, it should be noted that in November 1996 prior to Chief Dugan's January 1997 letter referred to in her cover letter below, the Buncombe County Native American Intertribal Association contacted then-Superintendent Frank Yeager with their complaint about the 'squaw' mascot at Erwin. Though Dr. Yeager initially assured them he would take corrective action, six months later, he said there was too much opposition to act.

The cover letter and report begin at this point:

Joyce C. Dugan
PO Box 593
Cherokee, NC 28719

April 5, 2000

Ms. Patsy Brison Meldrum
Attorney at Law
Roberts and Stevens Attorneys at Law
PO Box 7647
Asheville, NC 28802

Dear Ms. Meldrum;

Please find enclosed three (3) reports on Erwin High School's usage of Native American symbols/imagery as displayed throughout the school. As you know, B. Lynne Harlan assisted with this review and the subsequent enclosed report.

I wish to express my appreciation that I was included in the review, especially in light of the fact that my original letter to Principal Malcolm Brown apparently instigated the ensuing controversy. It is my hope that the enclosed review and recommendations will assist in finally putting the issue to rest.

Although the report indicates areas of concern, I was pleased to note during our visit that all visible references to "Squaw" have been removed. We did not address the team pictures in the foyer of the gymnasium which did contain the word squaw on the uniforms. It was our opinion that they are part of the school's history and to remove them would only serve to destroy that history. In addition, the letters were so small as to be unrecognizable in most cases.

I am hopeful that the controversy with which the Buncombe County School Board has grappled serves to ensure that Native American and perhaps other minority issues are incorporated into the school curriculum. It is my belief that the education arena is the most appropriate setting for true acceptance and appreciation of diversity to be developed and nurtured.

My best wishes to the Erwin community.


Joyce C. Dugan






Prepared by:

Joyce C. Dugan


B. Lynne Harlan

March 31, 2000


Controversy over the use of the Squaw mascot at Erwin High School, Buncombe County School system in Asheville, North Carolina resulted in a complaint to the United States Justice Department. This complaint was addressed through a US Justice Department agreement with the Buncombe County School System to discontinue use of the Squaw mascot, to retain the Warrior mascot, to address Native American concerns about educational materials for use in the classroom and to remove any offensive imagery from school premises.

This report was prepared by Joyce C. Dugan, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (1995-1999) and B. Lynne Harlan, birdsong thoughts Cultural Resource Consulting, at the request of the Buncombe County School Board. The task presented was "to review any and all uses of American Indian religious symbols, including those that may be part of any display or depiction, which are identified as being offensive to or disrespectful of American Indian culture throughout Erwin High School". Chief Dugan and Ms. Harlan toured the Erwin High School facility on March 23, 2000 accompanied by Ms. Patsy Brison Meldrum, Attorney with Roberts & Stevens for Buncombe County School Board, viewed relevant images and materials, and photographed images for this report.

Both reviewers are enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and this repot contains their professional opinions concerning the images detailed in this report. The reviewers based their opinions on personal and professional experiences as contemporary Cherokee women. The reviewers acknowledge that other Native Americans may disagree with these conclusions; however these differences in opinion and thought serve to demonstrate the complexity of the problem that Erwin High School has faced.

The following report consists of discussion of Native American symbolism, an outline of the process used to determine whether images are appropriate in the context of their use at Erwin High School and recommendations from reconciliation of inappropriate use of imagery.



Images and symbols used in Native American themes have meanings dependent on context. While some symbols are used in religious ceremonies representations of those symbols may be common in secular art as well. Determining which symbols are sacred and should not be used outside of their original intended context is only accomplished through study of the cultures from which they originate, study of material culture and analysis of the depiction of such objects and/or imagery. An example of this would be the eagle feather. The eagle feather is considered sacred by some Native American Cultures and therefore believe it inappropriate for public display. Others consider it an honor to display eagle feathers. Paintings, drawings and graphic illustrations of the eagle feather are not problematic for either group.

It is important to remember that while Native People have a distinct value system with which they embody sacred objects, artistic representations of those materials are not necessarily objectionable. Not all religious objects are held as sacred and not all uses of those materials are religious. For example, a drum or rattle may be used in a ceremonial context and may also be used in a social occasion. The use of a musical instrument for dual purposes does not allay its religious nature nor does its use in a secular context dishonor it.

Many Native American-inspired symbols are not accurate depictions of religious or sacred objects because individual cultural practices carry distinctions of which only practitioners of the religious tradition would be aware. The depictions by non-Native artists do not necessarily hold a religious connotation. An example would be sandpainting. While sandpainting is a sacred act to Navajos, anyone outside their culture would simply be practicing an art form based on their own imagery.


Three criteria were used at Erwin High School to determine the suitability of the use of existing works of art and whether or not the display of Native American artifacts (which are property of the school) is appropriate.

1) Are the images religious? Does the cultural context of specific images dictate whether or not they can be used in a secular manner?

2) Is the execution of style one of art or stereotype? If the images are merely stereotype, are they offensive to contemporary Native People?

3) Each image, symbol or object will be discussed individually and conclusions will be presented based on the observations of the reviewers. Recommendations will be based on those conclusions. Finally, the overall educational process will be discussed addressing the perceptions held by students, faculty and community members with regards to mascot images, execution of school pride through the inappropriate use of imagery and remedies to the perpetuation of Native American stereotypes with regards to the Warrior mascot.


(Reference: Enclosed photographs)

1) Warrior mural, first floor adjacent to administrative offices

The Warrior mural is considered the quintessential image with which Erwin High School identifies its mascot. The mural image dominates the main corridor of the school. Arguments over the stereotypical image of Native American related mascots are mostly commonly drawn from images such as the Warrior mascot. The caricature portraying the Warrior with an enlarged "Roman nose", menacing scowl and fierce stoic look combined with the plains style headdress and war paint is reflective of the stereotypical image of Native People that is prevalent throughout this country and perhaps the world. The painting is not readily identifiable with any distinct tribe or nation. The eagle feather headdress denotes stature among tribes who use it and the accompanying regalia are nondescript. While the use of the eagle feather is religious in nature its portrayal in this instance is not considered dishonorable. The use of "war paint" which, in almost every instance, is religious in nature and thus inappropriate in this context. The "war paint" is not distinctive to one tribe, however its use would be viewed as sacrilegious.

2) Display case featuring artifacts, first floor adjacent to administrative offices

The artifacts exhibited in the display case do not appear to be of Native American manufacture. The beadwork style, designs and overall appearance are not indicative of any particular tribe. The feathers are not eagle feathers and do not hold any religious meaning known to the reviewers. Some of the style of execution appears to replicate certain cultural practices however it is not realistic enough to warrant concern from these reviewers.

3) Murals, second and third floor corridors

These murals both contain paintings of Native Americans. One appears to be a likeness of the gigantic fiberglass man from the exterior of the Erwin High campus. The other appears to be a copy of an historic photograph. Both are included as a part of the Erwin High experience motif and neither, outside of their stereotypical poses and the aforementioned issues, is particularly offensive to these reviewers.

4) Totem poles, gymnasium entrance and exterior of school building

The totem poles are imitations of traditional totem poles from the northwest coast and Alaska. They are not accurate representations of traditional poles, have little or no religious symbolism and, if anything, only lend to the garish portrayal of Native culture.

5) Trophy case, gymnasium entrance

The impressive display of trophies at the entrance to the Erwin High gymnasium contains busts of a Native man and a Native woman and one cartoon drawing containing female mascot (girl with headband and feather). The two busts appear to be mass produced replicas that portray the stoic image of both male and female. The cartoon appears to be hand drawn and clearly meant to honor athletic achievements of Erwin High athletes. While both carry the continuing message of stereotype it is reasonable to assume they were gifts and/or awards given to the school.

6) Hand drawn images, gymnasium entrance windows

What is most troubling in regards to Native American mascots is the perpetuation of stereotypes by students who have little or no education in Native history and culture. During our visit the windows at the entrances to the gymnasium were adorned with temporary drawings of a teepee and a tomahawk. It is assumed both representations were meant as incentives to athletes for success and to represent school pride. This type of representation through imagery without meaning is offensive to Native People because it diminishes our accomplishments as a culture and reduces our humanity to stereotypical characterization.

7) Library pictorial display

On a positive note, the library contained ten framed photographs of Native American with brief descriptions of Native Americans located throughout the various regions of the United States. The information pertaining to each region provides a sampling of accurate facts that hopefully will serve to stimulate student curiosity and further exploration of Native subject matter.


The use of Native American mascots is problematic because the portrayal of images must be founded in education. Appropriate use of symbols and representation of Native People must be drawn from realistic sources and presented in a manner which informs and educates, not only the school but the school's community as well. This is not an easy task. Those who oppose any use of Native American mascots believe it diminishes our culture and promotes stereotypical images. Most often these images portray the Native American as savages raising tomahawks or portrays all Tribes with the same characteristics either stoic, doing a "war dance", with our arms raised in "hao" or crossed over our chests and most always in feathers. Further, the problem over Native American mascots has largely arisen from the "cartoonish" portrayal which Native Americans have viewed as disrespectful or even racist, and perpetuates misrepresentation.

1) The Warrior statue is perhaps the most visible of the images which define the mascot. Although these reviewers were not requested to comment on the statue as the Department of Justice has allowed for its continued use, we nonetheless felt compelled to briefly comment. Its continued presence clearly exemplifies the concerns expressed above. It is fully recognized that any alterations of the statue would be costly and controversial; however its removal would best serve the purpose of changing the image associated with the mascot. In lieu of total removal an educational plan to address its presentation and image would serve to the school's Native American curriculum. (See #7)

2) The Warrior mural in the front entrance can be altered slightly to address the savage look by removing the face paint. Changes can be accomplished during the summer break and few if any students would notice.

3) Other images can be phased out over time. Replacement of these images can be accomplished through an art program which would use historic photographs or contemporary images. Students could research such images prior to their use in the school and provide a means for interpretation of images.

4) The Native American busts and cartoons in the gymnasium trophy case can be removed as part of normal cleaning which could occur also over the summer months.

5) The entry display case artifacts are in need of conservation care and while the artifacts themselves are not objectionable their condition appears to represent an apathetic attitude toward Native American culture.

6) Through the history program or other curriculum, the timing is right to incorporate units of Native American history which would give the students skills in understanding imagery and symbolism. When given the responsibility of interpreting the Warrior mascot the students could then draw on their experiences rather than on misperceptions they've gained through the media and other sources.

The recommendations in this report are meant to provide a means for the Erwin High School administration to reconcile the offensive imagery associated with the mascot in a manner which would not create a confrontational atmosphere within the Erwin Community. Changes made during the summer months would not be obvious, and thus upsetting, to a community which has grappled with this controversy for many months. The changes recommended are also made in a context which would not provide for wholesale replacement of the mascot but rather a renewed vigor toward honoring Native American culture which was the original intent of the mascot. In closing, this was also the original intent of Principal Chief Dugan in correspondence to Mr. Malcolm Brown, Principal of Erwin High School.


Joyce C. Dugan

Joyce C. Dugan served as Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation from 1995-1999. As the Chief Executive Officer of the Tribe, cultural preservation and protection were foremost in her priorities and subsequent efforts.

Prior to her election as the first female Principal Chief of the eastern Cherokee tribe, Dugan was employed by the Cherokee Central School system where she served in the capacity of teacher, Federal Programs Director and Superintendent of Schools. During her tenure as Superintendent she led the effort to integrate Cherokee culture throughout the total K-12 curriculum, an initiative which was later adopted for inclusion in the system's Strategic Plan that was developed by staff, parents, students, and community members.

Dugan earned her BS and MS in Education at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC. She presently serves on the NC Economic Development Board to which she was appointed by Governor James B. Hunt in 1999, the President's Circle of the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper, the Cherokee Historical Association Board of Trustees, and the Gaming Entertainment Research and Education Foundation Board of Directors. She is presently self-employed as a consultant on Native American issues and is a nationally know speaker on those areas.

B. Lynne Harlan

B. Lynne Harlan is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She currently works with birdsong thoughts Cultural Resource Consulting in Cherokee, North Carolina. She is the former Executive Director of Cultural Resources for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, served as Collections Manager for the National Museum of the American Indian Arts Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico and as a Museum Technician at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

She is a contributing author to Mending the Circle: A Native American Guide to Repatriation published by the American Indian Ritual Object Repatriation Foundation and community columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper in Asheville, North Carolina. She serves as a Board Member for the North Carolina Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association.


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