Erwin High School Teachers' Statement to
Buncombe Co. (NC) Board of Education
February 4, 1999 Board meeting

The statement below was presented by two-time county Teacher of the Year, David Voyles at the February 4, 1999 meeting of the Buncome County School Board.


Introductory Remarks
I would like to thank the board for this opportunity to speak about the
mascot issue at Erwin High School.  Contrary to what some people may say,
this is no trivial issue, for there is no educational goal that is more
important than teaching our students that all people are to be respected.  I
know that you have other pressing matters that you need to deal with as a
school board, that you have urgent financial and curriculum issues, but I
would point out to you, that while this has obviously become a financial
issue, it is also a curriculum issue.   But first and foremost, it is a
moral issue.  The more I educate myself about this nation's history, and I
have to educate myself because many of these unpleasant chapters are not in
our state adopted textbooks, especially this nation's history of its
treatment of Native Americans, I am convinced that if our community and
students had known this history, it would never have even considered using
Native Americans as their mascot.  We cannot change what was done against
the indigenous people of this land in the past, but we certainly can correct
it now and we have the moral obligation to do so.
        This board has been praised, and rightly so, for making its character
education program a part of the curriculum in Buncombe County Schools.  We
are teaching our students the importance of virtues such as, honesty,
integrity, respect, and fairness, but our teaching will be hollow and
meaningless if we, as educators do not practice what we preach.  I would
like to remind you of the character education word for the month of February
- courage.  We now must have the courage to do what is morally right, even
if doing so is not the popular consensus of opinion.
        The statement from the faculty at Erwin has been slightly amended from the
text I sent you a week ago, and I need to explain why.  For some time now,
many teachers at Erwin High have wanted to speak out about the impropriety
of using Indian mascots, and many of us have done so individually.  When the
issue came to a head last year, many of us felt frustrated because we had
never been given a chance to speak out as a faculty on our position.  We
were informed of the process which was that some of us would conduct two
90-minute sessions of 'education' about the history of the controversy, a
brief video statement from a representative from each side of the issue, and
a discussion of two or three articles representing Native American views on
the subject with our students, and then the students would vote.  Originally
we were told that this vote was to be simply a polling of the students to
get an idea of where they stood, but as you know, this changed somehow to
become a binding policy.  While many of us disagreed with the idea, we
followed the board's directive.  However, we did ask our principal, Mr.
Brown, for a chance to present our view on the issue to the board, a request
which Mr. Brown graciously honored.  He polled the faculty at that time, and
an overwhelming majority, a clear consensus, stated that they felt that our
mascot should be changed and that it should not reflect any suggestion of
Native Americans at all.  This opinion was never made a matter of public
record, however, and many of us remained frustrated that the public did not
know where we stood.

        Recently, a group of us met and wrote the first draft of the statement
which I am about to read.  Teachers were polled again, not about their
position on the mascot issue,  but whether they would support this
statement.  A majority of those expressing an opinion supported the
statement, but a number stated that they could not.  One might well wonder
what could have changed in a year.  I would like to share with you the
responses I heard.  What some of those teachers expressed to me was that
while they personally wished for the mascot to be changed, they did not feel
they could request for you to overturn the students' decision.  Others
expressed to me that they did not feel it is our place or our responsibility
to state what should be done, but rather, that it is the board's
responsibility. Thus, in order to truly reflect the faculty's feelings, the
statement was amended to read as being from 'the undersigned faculty,'
rather than the faculty as a whole.
         Frequently I've heard people ask, 'Just how many students are affected or
offended by the Erwin mascots?   Who are we really hurting?'  They imply
that we can't have very many Native Americans in our schools, thus this
can't be a really big problem.  My first response is that this issue should
not be about numbers.  The question should not be 'How many people are we
hurting?' but 'Are we hurting anyone ?'  My second response is that we are
indeed hurting all  of our students when we continue to perpetuate a
stereotypical view of a segment of our population.  We are teaching them a
false view of who Native Americans really are, and I use the word 'teaching'
deliberately--this is a curriculum issue.  We are teaching all of the
students in Buncombe County that American Indians today are like the images
we present in our halls, on our shirts, and on our uniforms, and that image
is of a people of years past, a people whom this country at one time sought
to destroy.   Throughout U.S. history, Native Americans suffered the loss of
their land, their religious freedoms,  their language, and of course, their
lives.  Can't we at least ensure today that we will no longer be a party to
their loss of dignity?
        Many people in Buncombe County have said that the Indians ought to feel
honored by being chosen as Erwin High's mascot.  I'm reminded of Glen
Morris's words, ' People should remember that an honor isn't born when it
parts the honorer's lips; it is born when it is accepted in the honoree's
ear.'  In other words, if people don't feel honored, then they haven't been.
        Twice Buncombe County has bestowed upon me an honor which I greatly
treasure -- the honor of being named the Buncombe County Teacher of the
Year.  I believe that you recognized in me a genuine commitment to the
students of Buncombe County -- all  of the students of Buncombe County.  It
is because of that commitment that I stand here tonight and present the
following statement on behalf of the concerned faculty at Erwin High School.
        One last thought before I read that statement...In a time when people are
asking for, begging for decent, moral leadership, I for one, would be so
proud, to be able to say that on this issue the Buncombe County School Board
made a decision to refrain from using Native Americans as mascots, not
because the federal government told them to, and not because of the expense
to the taxpayers, but because they felt it was the right thing to do:

Concerned Faculty of Erwin High School:
Statement to the
Buncombe County Board of Education
        In the belief that a public education institution has not only a social
responsibility, but a moral obligation to respect and to teach respect for
all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, or culture, we, the
undersigned Clyde A. Erwin High School faculty, respectfully request that
the Buncombe County School Board examine its previous decision to allow the
mascots at Erwin High School to remain as the 'Warriors and Squaws.'

        The directive to allow the student body at Erwin High School to decide
whether or not to change the mascot placed the faculty in an awkward
position.  While the intention of providing  the students with an
opportunity to participate in the democratic process was commendable, a
consequence of this exercise was to convey the message that decision-making
is  based on  personal preference rather than what is right or wrong.
Additionally, continuing to use 'Warriors and Squaws' has caused many of us
to feel that by our silence, we are giving our tacit approval to a practice
which we find morally wrong.  We are finding it increasingly difficult to
live with such a feeling of hypocrisy, that is, the idea that we teach
tolerance and acceptance of all people, while perpetuating a stereotype
which demeans Native Americans through our continued use of the Erwin mascot.

        Although we acknowledge that no harm or disrespect was ever intended to be
directed toward Native Americans, we also recognize that to use any group of
human beings as mascots encourages and perpetuates stereotypical depictions
of those people.  We believe that if we truly desire to honor Native
Americans, we would refrain from using likenesses of them or objects often
associated with their sacred ceremonies and beliefs.

        Unfortunately, even on a national level, when  research is conducted on the
topic of racism in schools, the names 'Clyde A. Erwin High School' and
'Buncombe County Schools' surface.  We have an opportunity to be recognized
instead as an example of a school system that made a conscious decision on
its own to promote a genuine spirit of respect for all cultures and all people.

        In that spirit, we, as members of the faculty of Erwin High School, would
like to encourage the Buncombe County Board of Education to act courageously
and honorably by effecting a change of mascot at Erwin High School, not
because it is the politically  correct thing to do, but because, quite
simply, it is the correct  thing to do.