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April 23, 2001
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News Article
Issue Of Indian Names As School Team Symbols To Be Taken To Parkins
By: By BILL JONES/Staff Writer
Source: The Greeneville Sun

A Mosheim-area woman who asked the Greene County Board of Education in March to halt the use of American Indian names and symbols as sports team mascots is poised to renew that request.

Pat Merzlak said during a Monday telephone interview that she planned to seek a meeting with Dr. Joe Parkins, who is slated to become the director of Greene County Schools on July 1, to discuss a recent recommendation from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that calls for “an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native (American) schools.”

Merzlak told the county school board in March that her two children, who are of American Indian descent, attend Mosheim Elementary School, where the sports teams are called the “Indians.”

Other Greene County schools with Indian mascot names include DeBusk Elementary (the Braves) and Glenwood Elementary (the Chiefs).

“The Indian mascot issue has been building among Indian people for the last decade,” Merzlak told the board in March. “For Indian children whose history is not the same as the settlers’ history, it is very difficult to go to school where their people and their spiritual symbols and their history are being used,” she said.

Merzlak told the county school board in March that she often hears that Indian names’ being used as sports team mascots is meant to honor Indians. But she noted that she doesn’t believe it’s an honor for Indians to be lumped together “with devils and predatory animals.”

She said that on the walls of the Mosheim Elementary School gymnasium is a caricature of an Indian with a tomahawk and a spear.

“We’re portrayed as only that,” she said.

On Monday Merzlak said that, when she next meets with Parkins, she plans to present suggestions for phasing out Indian mascots at as little cost to the school system as possible.

“We have no interest in causing money to be immediately spent on this issue and will certainly work with the system,” she said. “Other school systems have successfully made the changes.”

The school board took no action after hearing Merzlak’s presentation during its March meeting. On Monday, she noted that she had not heard from school officials since then.

Civil Rights Commission

On Friday, April 13, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a statement that called for an end to using Native American images and nicknames as sports symbols.

“It is particularly disturbing that Native American references are still to be found in educational institutions, whether elementary, secondary or post-secondary,” the statement said in part.

“Schools are places where diverse groups of people come together to learn not only the ‘3 R’s,’ but also how to interact respectfully with people from different cultures,” the statement said.

“The use of stereotypical images of Native Americans by educational institutions has the potential to create a racially hostile educational environment that may be intimidating to Indian students.

“American Indians have the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation and even lower college attendance and graduation rates. The perpetuation of harmful stereotypes may exacerbate these problems,” the commission said.

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