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Centerís Director Says Firing Was A Surprise

LUMBERTON, NC -- October 1, 2001 -- When Beverly Collins was ousted last month from her job as site administrator at the North Carolina Indian Cultural Center, she wrote the center's board of directors asking why.

Collins said she had not gotten a reply until she picked up a copy of Tuesday's The Robesonian newspaper. It was then that she learned she had been fired.

Acting board Chairman Dobbs Oxendine told The Robesonian that after he replaced Gene Brayboy, who resigned as chairman on Aug. 24, he went to the center and asked Collins "to clean out her desk." Oxendine said accusations that the center was mismanaged and that the need for a more experienced center director fueled the decision.

But, Collins said, Oxendine never expressed a problem with her work or said that he was dismissing her and her two-person staff. Amanda Collins and Pauline Youngblood also worked at the center.

Beverly Collins said that Oxendine tricked her into leaving the job. She said the acting chairman had come to the Cultural Center's administrative office on Aug. 27 and told her that he was closing the center for two days as a way of drawing attention to the facility's problems. Collins said that when she tried to return there was a new staff in place.

"I never got the news that I was fired until I read it in the paper," Collins said. "There was no request to clean out my desk. He told me that he wanted to open the state's eyes and the eyes of the other tribes about the center. But that was all a lie. It was just done to get rid of me."

Collins said she has filed a grievance with the board of directors, asking it to settle the matter. Collins said she does not want her job back, but would like some kind of public apology when the board meets Oct. 10. She also sent the letter to the Lumbee Regional Development Association, which paid her salary, and the North Carolina Commission on Indian Affairs, which oversees the center.

"We, the staff of the North Carolina Indian Cultural Center have been publicly humiliated and become unemployed without prior notice or justification," Collins said in the letter. "We are placing it in your hands to settle this grievance."

Collins said she has not talked publicly about her dismissal before because she did not want the Cultural Center to receive any more negative press.

Collins said the reasons Oxendine gave for her dismissal were subterfuge to obscure the fact that a "fall guy" was needed to deflect criticism of the center. A group that calls itself Citizens for the Development of a North Carolina Recreation and Activity Center has accused center officials of mismanaging money, charging excessive fees and poorly maintaining the 456-acre site.

Collins said the criticism of her work began when she tried to start a multicultural program at the center to allow county youths to learn about American Indian culture, as well as the cultures of whites, blacks and Hispanics. There were about 350 students who participated in the program this summer.

"Some of the community did not want us to have African American and European Americans or Hispanics at the center," she said. "They claimed we were trying to set up a cultural center for everyone, but we were trying to help our youth to understand each other. It was what a cultural center is all about, but they didn't like it. That was really the turning point, when they suddenly had all kinds of problems with how the center was run."

Carnell Locklear, vice chairman of Citizens for the Development of a North Carolina Recreation and Activity Center, disagreed that the group mounted the campaign to oust the staff and the center's 15-member board because other races were allowed to use the center's grounds.

"That was never the case," he said. "We always had people of all races involved in "Strike at the Wind!" If we only allowed Indians at the center, we would have had to close our doors a long time ago."

Locklear would not say if the group planned to drop its petition drive to revert the center back to a recreation center and remove the current board of directors. Martin Lacy, a spokesman for the group, also declined to discuss how the group planned to proceed with the recent changes at the center.

"We're not going to comment until the board meets Oct. 10," Lacy said.

(The above three stories are from The Robesonian. They have been edited for timeliness.)

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