Since the mid 1950's, Clyde A. Erwin High School in the Asheville area of Buncombe County North Carolina has used the term "squaw" to refer to its women's sports teams.  Its men's teams are referred to as the "warriors".  Just outside the school's entrance stands a 25 foot tall Indian statue.

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 all ask ourselves the following questions:
  • Are American Indians appropriate 'symbols' to be used as sports mascots in public schools?

  • Should a derogatory term such as "squaw"  which has historically been used to designate a female prostitute or   a female's  reproductive organs  be used to refer to female student athletes today?

  • Will our  public schools become places where students are taught to respect those who are different?

  • Are American Indians NOT due the same respect other minority groups receive?
  • We must ask the following questions of our elected leaders:

  • Do school board officials not realize that  "Indian Mascots" are grossly inaccurate representations of a race and culture which is deeply rooted in our regional  history and which continues to be a vital part of our community?

  • Do school board officials refuse to acknowledge that the 's-word'  is every bit as offensive as the 'n-word" and that our schools should adamantly and equally oppose the use of BOTH words?

  • Should our educational leaders be required to accept their responsibilities and enforce existing policies regarding non-discrimination for 'all' persons including members of the American Indian community?

  • Should school officials be permitted to dodge this issue and ignore their duty by allowing students to set policy?

  • If students are allowed to vote on whether school policies on racism and discrimination are to be enforced, what other policies are they allowed to vote on? homework?  obscenity? attendance? violence?

  • WNCCEIB believes that the answer to these questions are painfully and embarrassingly obvious.  The effects on American Indian children of  seeing their image being used as a sports mascots has been proven to be extremely harmful.  Moreover, the use of American Indians as school mascots is a clear and blatant violation of school board policy on nondiscrimination.  Elected School Board officials should either enforce the policy fairly or vote to rescind it.

    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.

    The school board of Buncombe County must act now to
    Eliminate Indian Mascots at Erwin High School.

     Western North Carolina Citizens For An End To Institutional Bigotry


    PO Box 18640
    Asheville, NC 28814
    Tel: 828-669-6677
    Fax 828-669-8862