May 14, 1999 Derogatory Caricature On Erwin High School T-Shirt And Intertribal Association letter to Board of Education

On May 14, 1999 the same day that Erwin High School announced that the students had voted to use "Lady Warriors" as the replacement for the "squaw" mascot for female athletes, the school handed out a t-shirt to "Warrior Field Day" participants that is a derogatory caricature of an American Indian and misuses depictions of sacred Indian feathers.

As you can see by clicking here the American Indian depicted is made to appear as unattractive as possible, is undignified, and is twirling a hot dog on his right finger. He is wearing a caricatured ceremonial headdress which is never used flippantly among American Indians.

For school officials to allow the printing and distribution of such a t-shirt after all the talk about being "respectful" makes the point that there is no way to use American Indians as mascots that is educationally or ethically acceptable. Would any Indian be honored by this t-shirt?

Below is the May 17, 1999 letter sent to the Buncombe County Board of Education by Pat Merzlak of the B.C. Intertribal Association:

May 17, 1999

TO: Wendell Begley, Chair Buncombe County School Board

Re: Indians as mascots: Erwin High School

Wendell, I think is this (t-shirt depiction of an American Indian) is exactly what we have been addressing. This is from a T-shirt handed out at the field day Friday. Certainly the student meant no harm, but what is this telling us about the total lack of understanding of the issue?

This is a stereotypical image, using a ceremonial headdress, and is a caricature. It is just what the proposed curriculum is supposed to counteract...but in the meantime racism is being taught.

We totally agree that perhaps this was not controllable by the student, but Mr. Brown (Erwin Principal) just told me that everything is out of his hands, the school board is handling everything. Like this?

Am I supposed to tell my Indian children they should be proud to be identified with this image? All of you know you would never subvert your identity and culture or expect your children to do so, but you continue to tell the Indians we should do it for your pleasure.

It isn't over as long as we are caricatures like this.

Pat Merzlak

YOU can tell the Buncombe Country School Board what you think:
Mr. Wendell Begley
Buncombe Co. Public Schools
175 Bingham Road
Asheville, NC 28806
Tel: 828-669-7991
Fax: 828-669-6974
email to Superintendent Bob Bowers