Effort to change Manteo mascots moves forward

By on September 2, 2020

After petition, item on BOE agenda for next week

This story is co-published with the Coastal Review Online.

The issue of changing the Manteo mascot is on the Dare Board of Education agenda for Sept. 8. (Manteo Redskins Football Touchdown Club/Facebook)

When the Clyde A. Erwin High School in Buncombe County was under national media klieg lights more than 20 years ago due to a U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation of its Indian mascots, the Manteo “Redskins” and “Braves” sports teams in Dare County remained distant from the growing national controversy over names Native Americans viewed as insulting and disrespectful.

Eventually, the Asheville school changed its offensive “Squaw” mascot to “Lady Warriors.” In response to the 2002 State Board of Education directive that required North Carolina school districts to review any use of Indian mascot names, Manteo scaled back Native American   imagery in its mascots — while keeping the “Redskins” and “Braves” team names.

But now, some former and current students and community members say it’s past time for the names to go. And the matter will soon formally make its way to the Dare County Board of Education.

Citing the Black Lives Matter movement as inspiration, some alumni of the Manteo schools submitted an online petition with more than 12,000 signatures urging that the mascots be retired to the board of education in August. On Sept. 2, a subcommittee of the board agreed to add the alumni presentation on the issue to the agenda for its 5 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, according to Dare schools spokesman Keith Parker. The meeting will be streamed live online.

“The use of these mascots is deeply harmful to the cause of creating sustainable and positive

race relations in our community,” the petition says. “Changing these mascots is a small but symbolic step towards dismantling racist structures and building dialogue and accountability.”

The petition is also asking the district to “increase education about regional and national Native American communities and efforts to create an anti-racist school community.”

Named for Algonquian Native Americans Wanchese and Manteo, who interacted on Roanoke Island with the “Lost Colony’” — the famed English colony that mysteriously disappeared — Manteo High School adopted its Redskins mascot, an Indian brave’s head, sometime before World War II. The “Braves” name and logo was adopted by Manteo elementary and middle schools.

Holly Overton, a 2005 Manteo High graduate, said she remembered feeling “weird” about the “Redskins” name, but nobody ever said anything about it when she was in school. Many Native Americans consider the name, which refers to a murdered Native American’s scalp, to be a racial slur.

Years later, Overton said, her memory of that discomfort was stirred by the recent black activist movement. In examining her “privilege,” she said, she realized that Native American mascots are examples of the perception of “other” that is outside the white person’s frame.  “That was the trigger,” she said in an interview. “I started texting some of my friends.”

Overton, who is a painter and musician in Brooklyn, N.Y., soon connected with Manteo alumni Rachel Endsley (2005), Evan Harrison (2002) and Kristen McCown (2007) and they worked together with people in other school districts who have addressed the issue.

A petition drive in Gaston County is underway to retire the South Point Red Raiders in Belmont, which uses a mascot with similar imagery to Manteo’s Redskins mascot. Overton also contacted Monroe Gilmour, coordinator of the North Carolina Mascot Education & Action Group in Asheville.

Gilmour, who has been involved in the mascot issue since the 1990s, said the group was advised back then that attempts to force an outright ban of the mascots used in 73 school districts throughout North Carolina would create intense backlash; change would have to come from the community itself. That advice proved to be wise — and effective.

“We got forty schools to stop using Indian mascots,” he said in a recent telephone interview.

Over the years, interest in the mascot issue waned, except for occasional flare-ups inspired by the controversy over the Washington NFL team name.

But it seems that the Black Lives Matter movement, and the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, reinvigorated the issue. Out of the blue, Gilmour recounted, he received a call in June from a South Point alumni. The next day, he received a call from Overton. Then he received another call from an alumni from Social Circle, Ga. schools, which also use the “Redskin” moniker.

“All three of them contacted me within a matter of three days,” he says.

With the strong emotions and passions attached to mascot names — ranging from community members who identify with the teams they grew up rooting for to Native Americans who grew up feeling belittled by the characterization of their culture — changing those names has been a slow and conflicted process.

Gilmour recalls that when activist Charlene Teters, often referred to as the “Rosa Parks of American Indians,” visited Asheville in 1998, some students lowered a banner where she was speaking that read: “Scalp ‘em.”

In March 2020, the National Indian Education Association issued a new resolution calling for “the immediate elimination of race-based Indian logos, mascots, and names from educational institutions throughout the Nation.”

What concerns Gilmour, he says, is how often school administrators have dismissed the underlying racism in the mascots. “Educators are so cowed by fear of the alumni,” he says, “that they don’t do what they know they should do.”

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, who died last month, had testified as an expert witness for an American Indian group seeking to revoke the trademark for the Washington Redskins football team, according to his obituary in The Washington Post.

In his testimony, the Post reported, Nunberg — known for 30 years of language commentaries on NPR’s Fresh Air — called the use of the word “Redskin” a “racial slur” defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as “offensive slang.”

But despite years of controversy and criticism, Washington team owner Dan Snyder refused to consider retiring the named that his team adopted in 1933. “We’ll never change the name,” he declared in 2013 to USA Today. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

At the time, about 79 percent of Americans polled about the name agreed with Snyder, according to ESPN.com.  As part of the rationale for keeping the name, the NFL cited various high schools throughout the country who used the “Redskins” mascot. Under pressure from a number of quarters, including advertisers, Snyder recently reversed course and agreed to change the name.

Marilyn Berry Morrison, chief of the Roanoke-Hatteras Tribe, says there are about 200 or so members from the Outer Banks on the official roll. But native heritage has been difficult to trace, she said, because of the fear of “being carted off to the reservation,” combined with the tradition of oral, rather than written, history.

As it is for Washington, Morrison says it’s long overdue for Manteo to toss its “Redskins” mascot.

“Well, we tried to get this changed years ago, but it fell through the cracks and I’m glad that it’s surfaced again,” she says. “Ditching the cringe-worthy name would send a very, very important message. We are evolving. I know we can find something more suitable and appropriate to honor Manteo High School.”

Some names suggested in comments by people who signed the petition include Mariners, Seafarers, Falcons, Algonkians and Pirates.

Robin Sawyer, a former journalism teacher at Manteo High School from 1991 to 2004 and then at First Flight High School from 2004 until she retired in 2015, understands the reason why “Redskins” is offensive.

But the name also has a strong association to alumni heritage, especially for older generations, Sawyer notes. People feel sentimental, she says, about the dedication of the coaches and players, about the camaraderie and excitement of rooting for the team, about the Redskins being so closely identified with the community

Yet, Sawyer says, spending time fighting over the “Redskins” name strikes her as “frivolous.”

She adds that, “It breaks my heart that we’ve made things like this so impersonal, that we forget that things like this are so personal. In the big picture, I don’t give a flip about it. In the personal picture, it is heartbreaking.”

Jerry Cahoon, a retired teacher who at age 85 looks back fondly on his 30 years coaching the Manteo Redskins football team, sounded resigned about the name changing.

To the community, he says, he believes the mascot name was meant to show Manteo’s pride in its Native American history, “but we’re not Indians, and I don’t know how they feel.”

And while he says a new name might take getting used to, he adds that it would not take away the team spirit.

“There’s going to be a lot of people that are going to miss Redskins,” Cahoon says, adding: “I think our fans are still going to be our fans.”



Comments

  • Paul Collins

    Time to remove all mascots, school names, and road signs that contain names. Why we’re at it we need to change cities and town names. We could also start calling people by numbers instead of names. This is #2353988764567216 signing out.

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 11:48 am
  • Jeff

    Of the 12,000 people who signed the petition I’d guess about 8 of them actually live here or graduated from MHS. The Redskin name has never shown disrespect to Indians. Don’t let a bunch of woke liberals interfere.

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 1:00 pm
  • Liz

    Somebody please start a petition to KEEP the name as it is! I bet you would get a helluva lot of people who’d love to sign it. Wonder if the powers that be would listen, or cave to the woke snowflake mob.

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 2:18 pm
  • Penny Robbins

    Ridiculous!
    I went to Florida State University. The school mascot is the Seminoles. Our big rival is the University of Florida in Gainsville. Their mascot it the alligator or The Gators. I wonder if the reptile is going to be offended. I graduated from East Carolina University. We are the Pirates. I live in Skyco, between Manteo and Wanchese. Will we have to change the name of this community? My daughter named her son Skyco I guess see will have to change his name. These names were not chosen to offend anyone. They represent our heritage. Oh, me; oh, my!!!

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 3:43 pm
  • Ask yourself

    What actually happened to all of those “Indians”?Did they ship them off to Oklahoma? Did they send the young ones to “lndian Schools”? I think there aren’t many left in the area to ask what they think.

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 4:49 pm
  • Mary Jolliff Moore

    MHS, Class of 1957. Please add my vote to NOT change. Manteo is an honorable name, as was the Indian who first had the name (at least, as far as I’ve ever known) and why change after all this time. Exactly who will be hurt by history? You can’t change history, why change the name?

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 6:41 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Mary, just FYI, no one is suggesting that the name Manteo be changed. It is the “Redskins” nickname that people are talking about.

    Thursday, Sep 3 @ 8:16 pm
  • Elizabeth Bratcher

    🤦‍♀️Oh my goodness As a proud graduate of Manteo High School Class of 1985 I have one question????? Why can’t we all get along? There certainly was never any problem with this issue when I was in High School. This has to be the most Ridiculous thing I have heard this year and with what we have going on in politics and in the United States this is so petty and trivial! Where is the petition that a lot of Manteo high school Alumini signed several months ago to keep the Redskins name in tact?? I have always been proud to say I am a Manteo High School Graduate and that I was part of The Manteo Redskins Track Team. This absolutely breaks my heart

    Friday, Sep 4 @ 12:48 am
  • WBN

    We don’t need “small but symbolic steps.” Leave the name alone and find a better way to spend your free time. Create a list of those actual Native Americans who are offended and publish that. This is still a country of majority rules.

    Friday, Sep 4 @ 7:36 am
  • Jon

    C’mon renaming a team is fun, how often do you get to do that? My favorite suggestion for my favorite pro football team was “Washington Team of Football”, because we fans have gotten accustomed to those initials in the last 27 years. MHS deserves better than that though!

    Travis, “Flyers” is already taken … by FFES! Don’t want to bring any of the beach stuff over to the island!

    Friday, Sep 4 @ 10:23 am
  • Donnie

    End this liberal crap now. Trump will get 28% of African-American vote. Trump in a landslide !!!!!!

    Friday, Sep 4 @ 5:08 pm
  • anotherobxman

    Redskins is an offensive racial slur, no question about it.

    For those who have no problem with such, maybe the “Manteo Crackers” would be a good fitting name. Or how about “Manteo Whiteys” or perhaps “Manteo Necks” is more to your liking. I’m sure in time you’ll come to LOVE any one these non-offensive names. /s

    Friday, Sep 4 @ 8:15 pm
  • Manteo 1999

    GOOD.

    Friday, Sep 4 @ 11:47 pm
  • Mike Daniels

    A lot of uneducated opinions in this thread. That’s part of the problem though. People from small towns like manteo who don’t care about the people they are hurting or the outside world because it messes with the comfort of the way things have always been. No desire to listen or grow or care about others that are not in their immediate circle or sub culture. Broadcasting short comings by enforcing hate speech. Not all of them though. These voices are just the first you hear in retort. The most emotional. The loudest. The angriest for misplaced reasons. I grew up in manteo. Manteo High Alum. I signed the petition and recognized many many names that did as well. There are many incredible people that have always and still live there. I think if the others went out west and spent time on one of the reservations and got some real life experience they have the intellectual capacity to open their eyes to the tragedy they are enforcing. There are 6.79 million Natives in the US that are proud of their heritage and don’t want to be referred to under the racial slur that was part of their genocide. Manteo is just a very small island that protects itself by rejecting change. Good people. Outdated mentality.

    Saturday, Sep 5 @ 11:57 am
  • Maybe

    Monday, Sep 7 @ 5:38 am
  • Aaron

    If you people really cared about this community you would focus your efforts on a real problem we have plenty of them

    Wednesday, Sep 9 @ 10:19 pm
  • John

    Maybe they should use some of their spent up energy on changing the minimum wage to a livable wage around here….Poor Lives Matter..leave the Indians alone!..

    Wednesday, Sep 9 @ 10:26 pm
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