NC advisory council: Expand educational opportunities for Native American students, change offensive mascot names

Posted April 7, 2021 5:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 7, 2021 5:28 p.m. EDT

Nearly three dozen North Carolina K-12 schools use American Indians as mascots, one of several things a state American Indian education committee wants to change.

The State Advisory Council on American Indian Education presented six recommendations on improving education for Native students to the North Carolina State Board of Education on Wednesday.

The recommendations were well-received by board members, who noted that the recommendation to change the Native-inspired mascots was one the board should start working on soon.

“This is a ripe area for us to concentrate on,” Board Member James E. Ford said. Encouraging schools to change their mascots is a simpler action than most for the board to take, to put the State Advisory Council on American Indian Education’s recommendations into action.

The recommendation specifically calls for public school administrators and local boards of education to “review and implement local policies related to the selection of athletic mascots, and to educate all school personnel on the long-term, damaging effects to students when inappropriate images and messages dishonor the American Indian culture.”

Board Member Olivia Oxendine, who is American Indian, said she was encouraged by the council’s recommendations. Working to change mascot names, as well as the other council recommendations, will need support from the state, she said, and will require changing the minds of schools and their communities.

“That’s going to be challenging work, it really is,” Oxendine said.

The advisory council’s other five recommendations were:

  • Establish a Department of Public Instruction position to consult and coordinate efforts to improve education for American Indian students
  • Ensure senior DPI leadership to act on recommendations from the National Center’s American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Education Project’s Circles of Reflection Pilot to prioritize Native culture and language, tribal consultation and sovereignty, and targeted efforts to recruit American Indian teachers and leaders
  • Ensure DPI collaborates with the advisory council on content standards revisions
  • In response to COVID-19 learning challenges: Increased broadband Internet access, more digital literacy efforts and adequate funding of programs targeting learning loss from the past year
  • Find a way to make sure every educator has access to self-paced modules titled, “Culturally Responsive Teaching about American Indians”

The advisory committee presented data on end-of-grade and end-of-course exams, showing lower performance among American Indian students, highlighting the need to improve educational opportunities for those students. The graduation rate for those students in higher than for white students.

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