Some of the school's alumni and parents support the continued use of the mascots based on their long-standing tradition. They point to the fact that the school has always used the Indian image as its mascot and it now serves as a symbol of school loyalty and pride. They contend that the mascots are not intentionally disrespectful and therefore pose no harm.
American Indians (both locally in western North Carolina and throughout the country) have stated that use of stereotypical depictions of themselves throughout history are demeaning and deny American Indians the right to basic human dignity. They point to the use of their image (and sacred symbols) for the pleasure and amusement of sports enthusiasts as a blatant form of racism which would not be tolerated were it directed at other minority groups. They are greatly concerned over the impact that negative, comical and grossly false representations of American Indians have on their children as they seek to develop an identity. They are especially concerned over the psychological effect on American Indian children who see themselves and their ancestors portrayed as "mascots" in the same way that other schools use animals as mascots. Studies have shown that continued and pervasive exposure of American Indian youth to demeaning images of themselves, results in low self-esteem and a lack of pride in themselves, their culture, and their ancestral heritage.
In recent years, over 115 Universities/Colleges and
many high schools throughout America have eliminated their "Indian" mascots.
In many cases concerned students, faculty, and administrators took the
initiative in making necessary changes. In other cases local school
boards have taken the lead in assuring that all ethnic, religious, and
other minority groups are treated with dignity and respect.
In some cases, local and state governing bodies and judicial authorities
have gotten involved to assure that regulations and policies governing
discriminatory language and symbols are enforced.
American Indian leaders in Buncombe County North Carolina are particularly offended by the use of the word "squaw" to depict the female athletes at Erwin High School. They contend that the s-word (squaw) has historically referred to a female's genitalia and has been used synonymously with "whore" or "prostitute".
In November of 1996, the Buncombe County Native American Intertribal Association asked the Buncombe County School Board to eliminate American Indian mascots and motifs at Erwin High School outside Asheville, NC. In addition to the points outlined above, the local American Indian leaders contend that continued usage of the Indian image as a school mascot is a clear and direct violation of the School Board's Nondiscrimination policy which obligates the school board and staff to 'establish and maintain an atmosphere' that has 'respect for cultural differences' and for 'removing any vestige of prejudice and discrimination'.
The faculty at Erwin High School have overwhelmingly supported the elimination of the racist and derogatory mascots. Of the 95 faculty members, 90 voted in favor of changing the mascots. In spite of this fact, the school board has chosen to ignore its own established policies and to dodge its leadership responsibilities. Rather than enforcing its own nondiscrimination policy, the school board allowed students to vote on the policy.
This marks first time the school board has allowed students to vote to violate an existing school policy. The non-discrimination policy remains on the books but the board has instructed school authorities not to enforce it.
The school board has not stated whether other groups
and individuals may now be discriminated against also but it is assumed
that American Indians are the only persons excluded
from the nondiscrimination policy.
The local issue surrounding the use of American Indian images as the mascots of Erwin High School remains unresolved. The School Board continues to refuse to deal with the issue.
We must ask the following questions of our elected
The school board has chosen to follow the example of
the late George Wallace, former governor of the state of Alabama,
when he defied federal law with the words, "Segregation now, segregation
tomorrow, segregation forever". George Wallace eventually changed
his views and it is now time for the Buncombe County School Board to do
so as well.