Two school mascots that have identified a Catawba County community for decades set off a debate here last week about race and whether it's OK to use an ethnic image to promote school pride.
The Catawba County school board settled the issue officially when it voted Monday to maintain the St. Stephens Indian and the Arndt Middle School Redskin as the schools' mascots.
But debate lingers about the images. School officials, parents and students say they honor American Indians by depicting them as brave and noble, while Native American advocates consider such mascots derogatory representations.
Eddie Davis, a former state school board member and former president of the N.C. Association of Educators, is traveling the state, asking school districts to get rid of American Indian-related mascots.
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He said the symbols offend American Indians. After he left the state school board in 2001, the board asked districts to consider retiring such mascots, and some districts have since done so. Now Davis has taken on the cause himself, petitioning districts that have the mascots to get rid of them.
St. Stephens High School Principal DeAnna Taylor, who graduated from Arndt and St. Stephens, said the mascots respect American Indians. She assumes that officials adopted the symbols because the county is named for the Catawba Indians.
Taylor said the community hasn't called for the mascots' removal and that unless residents or school or state officials do so, the images will remain.
“It's never been used in a derogatory way,” she said. “It's always been about bravery, about being something that's admired.”
Taylor did say the school has gradually scaled back use of the American Indian warrior image, opting more often for a big “S” for St. Stephens, though copies of some Indian art prints hang on school walls and the school store is called “The Totem Pole.”
St. Stephens senior Alexa Roddy said the Indian has always represented the school and that it would be expensive to change it. “I've never felt like we've been disrespectful in any way,” she said. “I don't feel like I would be offended if it was my ethnicity, but I can't say for sure since it's not.”
Taylor said census figures show that two of St. Stephens' 1,300 students count themselves as American Indians.
Davis said he's disappointed about the local school board's decision. He pointed out that, in addition to the state school board, the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs and the N.C. State Advisory Council on Indian Education have called for the end of such mascots.”
“Tradition,” he said, “seems to trump the respect that we ought to have for different groups of people.”