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Posted on Wed, Jun. 05, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Indian mascot, moniker at issue

Raleigh Bureau

Worried about Native American dropout rates, N.C. education leaders want schools across the state to reconsider mascots and nicknames related to American Indians.

More than 60 public N.C. schools, including 20 high schools, use Indian symbols. The list includes West Mecklenburg High, home of the Indians, and West Iredell and East Gaston high schools, both home to the Warriors. More than 40 public schools in South Carolina, including 14 high schools, have similar nicknames.

The N.C. Board of Education will consider a resolution today and Thursday asking schools to study the issue and consider a shift. They are not demanding that schools drop their logos and mascots.

Advocates see eliminating Native American nicknames as a small but important step toward cutting Indian dropout rates and ensuring a quality education for Native American students. In 2000-01, the almost 8 percent dropout rate for Native American students was almost twice that of all N.C. schoolchildren.

Native Americans make up about 1 percent of the state's 8 million residents, and North Carolina has the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi River.

"It's just common sense that those mascots and symbols have an effect on children," said Louise Maynor, a Lumbee Indian and member of the Advisory Council on Indian Education, a group of Native American parents and educators that recommended the move.

"How long would you want to stay in a place where you're being mocked and laughed at?"

Changing names is costly and controversial, both in the Carolinas and nationwide. But Native American groups say the use of Indian terms and symbols at sports events amount to massive displays of group bigotry.

The Cleveland Indians' smiling Chief Wahoo and the Atlanta Braves' Tomahawk Chop, for example, blur the realities of modern Indian life, said Maynor and others. Such images also reinforce the notion that Native Americans are savage and violent.

"Even when they mean well, there are these stereotypes that these names promote," said Frances Stewart-Lowry, another member of the Advisory Council on Indian Education. Stewart-Lowry, of Lexington, is a member of the Indians of Person County, one of seven tribes recognized by the state. "We don't see other groups, other living, modern, real-life groups, singled out this way."

Since the late 1960s, more than 600 schools and professional teams nationwide have dropped Indian names or mascots. More than 100 colleges and junior colleges -- including UNC Pembroke, Chowan College and Catawba College in North Carolina -- and 1,500 high schools still use them, according to a recent Sports Illustrated survey.

In late May, California lawmakers refused to become the first state to ban American Indian names and mascots in public schools. Recently, a group of University of Northern Colorado students dubbed their intramural basketball team the "Fightin' Whites," complete with a smiling, straight-from-the-1950s Caucasian man for their logo, to protest the use of Native American images in local schools.

Three years ago, the U.S. Justice Department investigated Buncombe County's Erwin High School after complaints from Native American families. Erwin High School's front lawn featured a 30-foot-tall Indian complete with tomahawk. At pep rallies and games, a headdress-wearing mascot roused the crowd, and fans greeted players with chants of "Scalp 'em!"

Following the federal investigation into possible civil-rights violations, Erwin High leaders agreed to tone down the displays and stop calling female students "Squaws." In the Algonquin language, squaw is a pejorative term for female genitalia.

At West Mecklenburg, girls' and boys' teams are the Indians. Principal Gary Evans said he probably would bring someone in from outside to study the use of Native American symbols if the state resolution passes.

Evans sees nothing wrong with the Indians nickname, which dates to West Mecklenburg's opening in 1951 and reflects the area's history.

"This building is standing on what used to be Indian land. Are the people doing this saying anytime you have a mascot you're dishonoring people?" Evans said. "What about schools that use other terms, like the Patriots? Are they dishonoring patriots?"

Native American activists and educators worry that there's a fine line between honoring a culture and showing condescension. The Web site for South Stokes High School explains that the school's choice of "Mighty Sauras" came from the Saura Tribe, which settled in the region north of Winston-Salem before 1700. Sauras, the school Web site notes, "were clean and stood very tall and straight."

Among N.C. high schools, 13 schools call themselves the Warriors. Three call themselves Indians and two -- Roanoke High School in Martin County and Manteo High School in Dare County -- refer to their teams as the Redskins.

Manteo football uniforms carry a portrait of Chief Manteo, who aided English colonists in the 1580s. School administrators say students are respectful in their use of Manteo's image and memory.

"It's the history here. When you go to see the `Lost Colony,' you're going to see Chief Manteo, and you're going to hear them talk about redskins and palefaces," said Manteo Principal Kerry Tillery. "We wouldn't allow anything belittling, something like that chop-chop thing or war paint or feathers. ... I've never even seen a feather here, unless it was a seagull molting."

S.C. leaders haven't considered anything similar to the N.C. resolution, but several school systems have debated a change. Last fall, the Georgetown County School District dropped the Indian symbol that had been used by the Waccamaw High School Warriors. The school kept its nickname. -- STAFF WRITER ADAM BELL CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE.


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Updated Wednesday, June 5, 2002
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