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Calls to 'retire the Red Raider' high school mascot heighten, protest held at Gaston school board

Local leaders and community members continue to call for a change in South Point High School's mascot, which they said is "demeaning."

BELMONT, N.C. — The push to remove a controversial mascot from a Gaston County school was in the spotlight Monday due to a planned protest at the school district meeting.

For decades, Belmont's South Point High School has been known as the Red Raiders, but that is a chapter some are hoping to turn the page on soon. 

"The way that they portray the actual mascot is very demeaning," Hayley Brezeale, a member of Retire the Red Raider Coalition, said. "It's stereotypical, and a lot of the activities that they actually participate in, like the tomahawk chop, does not accurately represent indigenous people."

Brezeale said, for months, calls to end the mascot's use have fallen on deaf ears.

"We've been engaging with the Gaston County Board of Education for about a year and a half now," Brezeale said. "They will not meet with us. We have asked to sit down with them in meetings and just talk about the mascot issue so that they can learn more information, but they really just kind of ignore us."

The coalition, along with the Metrolina Native American Association, planned to bring the concerns to district leaders once again, with a protest ahead of Monday night's school board meeting.

"We are hoping that we will have several indigenous people of multiple different communities be able to attend, and the regalia," Brezeale said. "We'll have some drumming. We'll have dancing, native music playing."

The purpose, she said, was to give an accurate portrayal and celebration of Native American heritage and to remind that Native identity is not a costume.

Brezeale said protesters were expecting opposition groups to show up, too.

"We're definitely expecting it," Brezeale said. "But what I will say is, you know, if they get loud, our drums will get louder."

Monday's protest began at 4:30 p.m. The school board meeting started at 5:30 p.m. After the public hearing, the chairman thanked the speakers for their time then resumed the regular meeting.  

The Retire the Red Raider Coalition plans to work with the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs to get a statewide ban on Native American mascots.

A Change.org petition to "Retire the Red Raider" was created in 2020 and has more than 11,000 signatures in support.

WCNC Charlotte reached out to the Gaston County Board of Education Sunday night by email but did not hear back.

Contact Vanessa Ruffes at vruffes@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram