NEWS RELEASE 3 pages & 3 attachments

Embargoed until 10:30 am Monday August 9, 1999

For more information: Bruce Two Eagles 828-683-1889

Don & Pat Merzlak 828-254-0010

Full background at

'Squaws' gone, 'Indian Warrior' should go too say local American Indians, others

-Erwin High School paints over offending mascot name- -Buncombe Co. schools' minority hiring practices seen as symbol of indifference-

The controversy over the use of American Indian mascots was raised again on Monday, the first day of school, when American Indians and supporters gathered at the front gates of the Buncombe County Schools central office in west Asheville (NC) . They called a news conference to celebrate a partial victory and call for more action. The news conference followed a year which included a U.S. Justice Department probe of the Buncombe County school system and national attention on the local mascot issue.

One year ago on the first day of school, American Indians stood in front these same gates in the mountains of western North Carolina calling for the elimination of Indian mascots at Clyde A. Erwin High School.

"We are pleased to see that the s-word was painted over last week on the Erwin gym and removed from the booster sign out on the highway," said Bruce Two Eagles of the Buncombe County Intertribal Association.

"They can keep the 'Warrior' mascot," he added, " but it should be disassociated from American Indian imagery. That 25 foot lawn-jockey statue at Erwin continues to stereotype Indians and embarrass many fine teachers in this system. Remember, this issue is really about curriculum, about what we are teaching our children. The teachers at Erwin know that and voted 90 to 3 to eliminate all Indian imagery from the mascots. The school board ignored their wise counsel."

Two Eagles was joined by representatives of other community-based organizations including John Hayes, President of the Asheville Branch of the NAACP. Hayes read a resolution passed at this summer's NAACP national convention calling for the elimination of Indian mascots. He connected the issue to Buncombe County School's minority hiring statistics.

"When you look at the statistics, it is no wonder the school board has been indifferent to American Indians and to the mascot issue," said Hayes.

Siting the school system's 1998-99 Full-time Personnel Report, Hayes said, "There are 857 elementary school teachers in the county. Three of them are Black and six Hispanic. That's one percent. There are 379 middle and high school teachers. None of them is Black and only two are Hispanic. Overall, there are 3023 on staff, 74 of whom are minorities of any kind. Only 15 of those have teaching contact with students. There is only one American Indian employee out of the entire 3023 staff. The school board's mascot insensitivity is just the tip of an iceberg."

In March 1999, the US Justice Department negotiated a settlement with the school board in which 'squaws' would be eliminated as the female mascot at Erwin; the school system would develop better curriculum materials about American Indians for all schools; and, offensive religious items used as part of the sports mascot imagery around the school would be removed.

According to Pat Merzlak, the mother who filed the original complaint with the Justice Department, these commitments have only been partially completed despite the school board's agreement with the Justice Department to complete them before school started.

"The s-word has been removed from the outside but is still very visible on the inside of the school, " said Merzlak. "The school board has taken steps to add $30,000 of curriculum materials to schools throughout the system, but to our knowledge nothing has been done to review and remove offensive imagery displayed at the school. The Board appears to have failed to meet the timing requirements set forth in the US Justice Department agreement."

Merzlak added, "It is all about children, both mine who are directly affected, and yours, who are being taught that it is OK to stereotype and make fun of American Indians."

Shirleigh Moog of the Interfaith Alliance for Justice held up a t-shirt depicting a reptile-looking American Indian twirling a hot dog on his finger, She said, "This t-shirt produced by Erwin High School for their school-wide 'Warrior Field Day' in May, only two months after the Board's settlement with the Justice Department, once again demonstrates the lack of understanding and the insensitivity present regarding racial stereotypes and caricatures. What would be the community's response if a public school authorized an image like this that depicted an African American or a Jewish person? In an increasingly diverse world and community, we all must be sensitive to the other person's dignity. In a community of mutual respect, all will prosper."

Noel Nickle from the Christian Action Committee of First Congregational United Church of Christ announced that the video "In Whose Honor?" is available to religious and civic organizations that would like a discussion program on the mascot issue. "As parents and as citizens, each of us needs to become educated on this issue. We encourage all organizations and particularly those in faith communities to contact the Intertribal Association and arrange for a program. We did that at our church and it really opened our eyes and hearts to the need for change at Erwin and throughout our nation."

Don Merzlak, Elder of the Intertribal Association said the organization is working in coalition with other community organizations to develop a year of educational activities in the region to bring attention to the mascot issue and to galvanize community support for change at Erwin and the 61 other schools in North Carolina with American Indian mascots. Merzlak also announced that Bruce Two Eagles has been asked to co-present on the Erwin mascot controversy with Cornel Pewewardy, a top Indian educator at the National Indian Education Association conference in Oklahoma City, October 16-20.

The Buncombe Co. Intertribal Association is a non-profit organization made up of 17 different tribal representatives. It is not associated with the Eastern Band of Cherokee though it has supporters and members who are Cherokee.



-National NAACP resolution

-Buncombe County Full-Time Personnel Report 1998-99

-Copy of Erwin High School "Warrior Field Day" t-shirt

Other contact numbers:

Buncombe Co. Public Schools Supt. Dr. Bob Bowers 828-255-5876

Chair Buncombe Co. School Board Wendell Begley 828-669-2598

Erwin High School Principal Mal Brown 828-258-1086

Asheville Branch NAACP President John Hayes 828-281-3066

Mascot web page/WNC Citizens For

And End To Institutional Bigotry Monroe Gilmour 828-669-6677