--Requesting action to eliminate Indian mascot at Clyde A. Erwin High School in Asheville, N.C.

--(Note: This letter was written to the NCHRC by the Intertribal Association after the NCHR responded to WNCEIB's request for action by saying that while the NHRC deplores the use of derogatory symbols/mascots, it could take no action unless it heard from the actual people offended--as if non-Indians cannot recognize that this issue is their own 'dirty laundry' they need to fix.)

April 17, 2000

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

Dr. Jerry Drayton, Chairman
N. C. Human Relations Commission
1318 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1318

Re: American Indian Sports Mascots

Dear Dr. Drayton:

When my American Indian children first began telling me of how they felt going to school with the sports mascot "warriors" and the female athletes "squaws" I finally faced the fact that something needed to be done. The American Indians have endured this humiliation for too long, being ranked right up there with lions, tigers, bears, and other assorted predatory animals. While the majority white population continued to "honor" a people who are more than ready to share that honor with some other race, ey refuse to relinquish the stereotypical thinking of the American Indian as a noble, extinct being....while somehow being able to treat those living Indians with distain, disrespect and contempt.

We (American Indians) have complained, over and over, and it continues to fall on deaf ears. I complained because of my children's treatment to the local school board, to Governor Hunt, to Carl Ross from your office, to Greg Richardson of Indian Affair to the Department of Justice. Mr. Ross and Mr. Richardson, along with a representative from the State Superintendent of Public Schools office, met with us and the local school board in February of 1998. All agree something needs to be done, but Gover r Hunt quickly backed down on his alleged support of getting rid of ethnic branding and making mascots of living people when Senator Helms decided it was a non-issue. You all regret such usage and think it needs to be ended, but no one has the courage make a stand, not for Indian children, nor for the non-Indian child who daily learns racism and stereotypes about Indians.

One simple question that no one will answer.....would your office, Governor Hunt, state public schools, etc. tolerate or allow any school to use a Zulu Warrior (tastefully and honorably done, of course) as a mascot? Perhaps erect a 25' tall statue of at warrior...use spears, costumes, lots of paint, and even a bone in the nose, a great touch! I think the line of "local schools have autonomy" would go out the window in a hurry.

My Indian children attending this school (Clyde A. Erwin, in Buncombe County) were daily in an atmosphere of coercion where they must speak out and protest the disrespect and misuse of their culture, and be harassed by the other students; or they must k p quiet and in effect participate in those disrespectful things that happen as their religious symbols and cultural teachings are demeaned. Just as any child from a religious minority has the right not to be subjected to the majority religious teachin in a public school, my children should not have to endure the taunts and sacrilegious use of eagle feathers, paint, and culture. Our children are taught to respect their culture and religion, the schools do not respect anything about Indians. Their n-discrimination policy calls for respect for culture and religious beliefs, we are told it does not apply to Indians. We have even been told since there are so few of us complaining, majority rules and we can accept it or leave the area. Frankly, a of the politicians seem to look around and decide a few Indian children having problems in school is not a problem.

The school policy makers have decided there should be less bullying in schools, and our children are bullied because they speak out. There is an outcry of violence prevention, while the athletic mascot policies make our children into "others" who are b ittled and set apart as different. Our children suffer low self-esteem and problems with identity, they certainly are not part of the majority groups but they are not stereotypical savages, either.

Perhaps a telling comparison can be made. Just as the American people attempted to eradicate the Indian population, Germany under Hitler attempted genocide against the Jewish population. Now after time has passed, suppose the Germany of today decided great athletic mascot would be Jewish, honoring their struggle to survive. Religious items could be used as symbolism, torahs could be painted on walls, Jewish clothing and culture of the era could be incorporated into the theme. Now suppose Jewish c ldren were enrolled in those schools. Do you honestly believe this would not be a hostile learning environment?

You may deplore mascots and symbols offensive, demeaning or derogatory to any race, even American Indians. What are you willing to do to stamp this out? So far, everyone is very sorry about the issue, but no one cares enough or is sorry enough to "pu their money where their mouth is" as the saying goes. This is pure and simple racism, in a state with over 80,000 Indian citizens, mostly passive from long years of suppression. What is the purpose of the Human Relations Commission if not to assist th e oppressed and discriminated against?

I am, once again, asking on behalf of my American Indian children, that those in power act in their behalf to stamp out racism and discrimination. I ask that our religious symbols not be used for sports and demeaned, that our culture be taught legitima ly in school, not on the athletic fields. My children belong to a living race of people, not one that has been exterminated. Our culture still survives, and it is not the stereotype of Hollywood and sports.

Please act on the behalf of a minority in North Carolina, help us live in dignity and enable us to raise our children with pride and self-esteem. Lead other states that are moving to remove Indian imagery, truly lead in education and human relations.

We will be looking forward to action, not words. My children deserve no less.


Patricia Merzlak
Buncombe County Native American Intertribal Association
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