Buncombe County Native American Intertribal Association
44 McKinnish Cove Dr.
Asheville, NC 28806

828-254-0010 or 828-683-1889
828-252-7713 BTwoeagles@aol.com

<www.main.nc.us/wncceib/>then go to American Indian mascot section

News Release : Tuesday November 16, 1999

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

Don & Pat Merzlak 828-254-0010

See other contact numbers at end of release

Misuse of Sacred Indian Imagery Creates
"Hostile Environment" At Erwin Says Professor

Yale professor tours school and reports at behest of U.S. Justice Department

The Erwin mascot controversy just won't go away. A new report by an expert on American Indian religious imagery says that Erwin High School's pervasive misuse of sacred imagery would be "offensive to Native American persons and would serve to create a hostile environment at the school."

Dr. Jace Weaver, Associate Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale University, toured Erwin High School as part of a March 4 agreement between the U.S. Justice Department and the Buncombe Co. Public Schools. That agreement included elimination of the female "squaw" mascot, the addition of diversity materials to the system's 37 schools, and the permanent removal of "any and all uses of American Indian religious symbols...which are identified as being offensive to or disrespectful of American Indian culture."

The agreement called for the former Principal Chief of the Eastern Band Cherokee or her representative to tour the school and make the determination. When no walk-through dates could be worked out, the School Board went back to the Justice Department and they recommended Dr. Weaver who is a lawyer and a PhD. in religious studies.

The tour took place on August 19 and the report is dated August 30, 1999. However, the report only became known to the Buncombe County Intertribal Association on November 10.

"We had not heard and had not heard so we asked the Superintendent. Then we find out they have had it for weeks or months but hadn't done anything about it," said Pat

Merzlak of the Intertribal Association. Merzlak filed the original complaint in June 1998 that brought in the U.S. Justice Department.

Merzlak added, "We had tried to tell them all along that these symbols were religious symbols and had spiritual meanings that don't belong at a football game or in a public school."

Weaver's report covers all aspects of Indian imagery in the school from murals to display cases to the school's letterhead. Excluded from removal by the Justice Department agreement are the 25 foot Indian statue at the front of the school and a two totem poles. The report makes it clear that were these items included, they would be offensive as well, the statue being a stereotype and the totem pole a religious item. Weaver points to the displays of feathers, fire, sun, and other items at the school and explains how each fits into the spirituality of American Indian religious traditions. Even the school's logo that adorns the Erwin letterhead is filled with religious imagery and thus their use in a secular school setting would be considered offensive by many Native Americans according to Weaver. The report can be read in full on the Intertribal Association's web site at

<this link

Reports that the Buncombe County School Board will seek a second opinion did not sit well with Don Merzlak, Pat's spouse and Elder of the Buncombe County Intertribal Association.

He said, ""There was nothing in the agreement with the Justice Department that called for another opinion. I think it's a stall tactic by the Board's lawyer. I don't think they should go out and scour the countryside to find an Indian who will agree with them."

Bruce Two Eagles, who made a presentation about the Erwin mascot situation at the National Indian Education Association convention in Oklahoma City in October, said it is time to fix Erwin High and move on.

According to Two Eagles, "Each time an agreement has been made with the school and we think they are going to stand up and be accountable, they look for another opinion. Broken treaties need to stop being made."

Don Merzlak added, "It is time for this to be over. No other race of people who have had to experience their own genocide on a daily basis has had to turn around and put their children on the mascot block."

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

Contact numbers: -30-

Superintendent Bob Bower 828-255-5876

Board Chair Wendell Begley 828-669-2598

Erwin Dt. Representative Roger Aiken 828-258-9858

U.S. Justice Dept. Attorney Lawrence Baca 202-514-3874

Full Report: www.main.nc.us/wncceib/ go to American Indian Mascot section