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
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
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
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
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
Evans sees nothing wrong with the Indians nickname, which dates
to West Mecklenburg's opening in 1951 and reflects the area's
"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
"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.
-- ANNA GRIFFIN: (704) 358-5940; AGRIFFIN@CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.COM.