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Teacher forms mascot education group
By Clarke Morrison, staff writer

Posted: 08-26-01 01:30

ASHEVILLE ó As the debate raged over the use of the Warrior and Squaw mascots at Erwin High School, David Voyles was one of the teachers who argued against using sports mascots that stereotype American Indians.

Now that the controversy has subsided locally, the two-time Buncombe County Teacher of the Year wants to enlist educators in a larger effort to spread the word that the time has come to do away with such imagery. Voyles has formed an organization called North Carolina Educators for the Elimination of Racist Mascots, which will be based in Buncombe County.

"Itís not just a local issue," he said. "I think as educators we need to first educate ourselves, and then we can educate our students and our community."

Voyles, who has taught English at Erwin for more than 20 years, mailed letters to teachers asking them to join, and plans to create a Web site about the issue and provide regular e-mail updates to members. (WNCCEIB note: NCEERM's email address is nceerm@att.net and its web address is http://home.att.net/~nceerm/welcome.html)

"As educators, we know that representing people as stereotypes increases the likelihood of discrimination and persecution," he said in the letter. "N.C. educators have needed a channel through which to express their concerns on this important issue.

"There are 18,000 American Indian students in N.C.ís public schools, and that group has the highest dropout rate of any segment of the school population. We need to look for every opportunity of making our schools more welcoming."

The issue of American Indian sports mascots erupted locally during the 1997-98 school year when some parents, teachers and students at Erwin High objected to the use of the Warrior and Squaw mascots. The U.S. Department of Justice then opened an investigation into whether a "racially hostile environment" existed at Erwin.

The investigation was dropped last year after the department reached a settlement with the Buncombe County Board of Education in which the board agreed to stop using Squaws to refer to the schoolís female sports teams. The school board was notified earlier this year that it had fulfilled its obligations under the settlement, which also included removing from the school all American Indian religious symbols identified as offensive with the exception of the 25-foot Indian statue in front of the school and two totem poles.

School board Chairman Wendell Begley reiterated Friday that the board considers the matter closed, but said he has no problem with Voyles forming a group working to eliminate the use of such mascots.

"Weíre in compliance with the Justice Department ruling. We do not intend to revisit that issue," he said. "Weíve dealt with it as fairly and openly as we can and I donít intend to go back through it.

"Our teachers have their own opinions and their own thoughts and they have the freedom to express that as long as itís not disruptive to the school environment. I certainly wouldnít want to keep (Voyles) from expressing his own views."

Voyles said thereís no cost to belong to his new organization. He said he sent his letter of invitation to teachers whom he knows to have been involved with the mascot issue and wants to gradually spread the word to other teachers across the state.

"If we look back over what happened locally in Buncombe County, we started with protests and demands of the school board instead of education," he said. "We may have been asking too much of people too quickly. This is an education issue. I believe the more people know about it the more willing they are to change."

There are nearly 60 schools across North Carolina with Indian mascots. This past spring the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement calling for an end to Indian sports mascots and imagery at all non-Indian schools.

"We as educators must listen to such voices and re-examine the overall metaphors of our schools," Voyles said. "The sad bottom line is that not only are we harming the Indian students in our state, but we are teaching the other students that stereotyping other cultures is OK. We cannot purport to teach character education while keeping these racist mascots."

Contact Morrison at 232-5849 or CMorrison@CITIZEN-TIMES.com

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