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Race & Equity

Native Americans say they won't stop fight to remove Gaston school's racist Raider mascot

Red Raider protest 1.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
About 30 Native Americans and South Point High community members protested the Red Raider mascot before the Gaston County school board meeting Monday.

For almost two years people demanding that Belmont's South Point High School replace its offensive Red Raider mascot have gotten the silent treatment from the Gaston County school board and South Point's principal.

They were back at Monday's board meeting, held during Native American Heritage Month, to say they won't give up.

Rebecca LeClaire, a Lumbee tribe member who chairs the Metrolina Native American Association, helped organize the rally that drew about 30 people.

"We are not your mascot," she said. "We are not honored by being portrayed as violent red-faced raiders by people who know nothing about our actual history, traditions or culture."

Ann Doss Helms

LeClaire says she could tolerate the name if it weren’t accompanied by a caricature of an Indian with a bright red face, which appears on everything from the school's message board to yard signs supporting the football team.

"What’s the problem with that?" LeClaire asked. "Remove the Indian head, keep the Red Raider."

The mascot question wasn't on Monday's school board agenda. LeClaire and other organizers say the board has ignored repeated requests to put it to a vote and/or hold a community forum to discuss concerns.

Resistance and support

Members of a group called Retire the Red Raider have spoken repeatedly during the board's public comment period, as well as protesting outside football games. They say the mascot is demeaning and misrepresents Native American culture.

RR banner 1.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
A supporter of the Red Raider mascot shouts at protesters at a football game earlier this year.

At one game earlier this year, several people in Red Raider gear muttered or yelled derogatory comments at protesters.

"No! Never! Go retire yourselves," one man yelled as he waved a banner with the Indian-head logo while the group chanted "Retire the Red Raider!"

But South Point senior Ryan Simms said Monday that many students would welcome change.

"South Point’s mascot is racist, dehumanizing and wrong on every basis," he said. "I am a proud South Point student. I am not a proud Red Raider."

Change across the country

Several speakers said it's mortifying that Gaston's school board is sticking by the mascot when sports teams across the country are eliminating offensive names.

Red Raider protest 2.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
Jason Crazy Bear Campos-Keck, a Choctaw and member of North Carolina's 17 Rivers American Indian Movement, speaks at Monday's rally.

Jason Black, a professor of communication and social change at UNC Charlotte, said he's been studying mascot controversy for 20 years.

"It's not a PC issue. It's not flash-in-the-pan. It's not just post-summer of 2020," he said. "It's deeply rooted in improving respect for indigenous people."

Former Belmont Mayor Richard Boyce, the father of four South Point graduates, noted that South Point's football team is in the state playoffs.

"Those players are demonstrating great courage, grit and team work on the field," Boyce said. "Why can't we demonstrate similar courage, grit and community work on this topic?"

Group won't give up

Hayley Brezeale, a citizen of the Catawba nation and a Gaston County Schools alum, said neither silence from officials nor ugliness and threats from opponents will stop the movement.

Red Raider circle dance.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
Monday's protest ended with dancing and drumming outside the Gaston County Schools headquarters.

"We’re not stopping. We’re not silencing," she said. "If I have to be spit on and told to kill myself again, I’m going to take it. It’s a fight in my head but it’s a spirit in my heart, and that spirit’s not going anywhere."

LeClaire, who's a member of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, said if the group can't get any response from local officials, she'll ask the General Assembly to require all schools to eliminate offensive mascots.

"There's about 34 left in North Carolina that we consider offensive mascots," she said.

The protest closed with a Native American circle dance before speakers filed inside for the school board meeting.

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