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February 02, 2006 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-02-02

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The Mic i amua

OP/ED

The Michigan Daily - Thursday, February 2, 2006 - 5A

Student groups debate
the role of Michigamua
at the University

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Sys...
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Michigamua has
troubled past

BY CASEY KASPER, BRITTANY
MARINO, PRIYANKA PATHAK,
HEATHER BRINK AND
JORDAN MILLER
In 1817, the Ojibwe, Potowatomi
and Odawa Nations made an
agreement to cede 3,840 acres of
their lands in exchange for the educa-
tion of all future generations of their
people. This agreement, known as
the Treaty of Fort Meigs, became the
basis for the foundation of the Univer-
sity. Despite the terms of this agree-
ment, not only have outreach and
retention efforts for Native American
students been neglected, but an orga-
nization openly mocking and bas-
tardizing Native American culture
has long been in place.
The name Michigamua originates
from the Ojibwe word, michigama
meaning land surrounded by water.
Additionally, each new member is
given a name that is derived from
Injun-English, the racist depiction of
supposed Native American speech.
Examples of such names include
"Great Scalper" Yost, "Squaw-
Teaser" Schmid and "Wise Chief'
Hutchins. These names are deroga-
tory and reflect painful stereotypes
of Native American peoples. For
example, the word "squaw" which is
so abrasive it is not even spoken aloud
in many Native communities, refers
to female genitalia and is currently
displayed on a wall of the Tap Room
in the Michigan Union.
Each spring, 25 juniors are
"tapped" (or invited) to be part of
the pride of the following year. Upon
graduation, members become part of
Michigamua's "Old Braves Council;'
a network of Michigamua alumni
who have participated inMichigamua
pseudo-ceremonies and remain in
the organization today. Incentive
for attaining membership in the
organization lies predominantly in
being connected to this large alumni

network. Through these connec-
tions, Michigamua alums have gone
on to positions of great power. The
privileges associated with status as a
Michigamua member are awarded at
the expense of Native peoples.
History proves that the triumph
of the dominant culture relies solely
upon oppression of other groups.
Participation in Michigamua is used
as an escape from oppression for
those individuals of underrepresent-
ed genders, races, orientations and
religions that have recently gained
entrance. Through this organiza-
tion, Native American people have
become a stepping stone to privilege.
By constantly serving as the step-
ping stone for others on their road to
power, our culture is devalued and
we are continually marginalized.
Despite its offenses, Michigamua
remains permanently entrenched
within the University, as most cam-
pus buildings are named after former
members. Michigamua was granted
exclusive access to the tower of the
Michigan Union. No such courtesy
access was ever granted to other stu-
dent groups who have contributed to
the University, much less to the Native
American peoples who were integral
in its founding. Michigamua's use of
the tower included abuse of sacred
Native American religious objects.
In 2000, members of the Students of
Color Coalition discovered that the
tower was structured as a pseudo-wig-
wam, filled with both authentic and
mock objects such as drums, a cradle-
board and sacred pipes. SCC mem-
bers found photographs of the Pride of
1996 abusing these objects seven years
after Michigamua's 1989 agreement to
end all references to Native American
cultures and pseudo-culture.
Michigamua claims it is no longer
racist. However, because of its use
of the name and its enduring ties to
alumni, the practices of the past can-
not be dismissed. The presence of this

organization on campus and the his-
tory of University support terrorizes
Native American students today. In
order for Michigamua to demonstrate
that it has changed, it must eliminate
its oppressive name and denounce its
destructive past. In addition, Mich-
igamua the current pride and the
alumni - must apologize for more
than a century of oppressing Native
American peoples. Until a clear sepa-
ration is made between the racist men
who enjoyed the dehumanization of
Native American peoples and the
current class which asserts that the
organization has indeed changed,
any claims to such change cannot be
taken seriously. Attempting to change
the organization from within assumes
that it can be changed without the
approval of the Old Braves Council.
The University must take respon-
sibility for the perpetuation of this
racist organization by issuing a for-
mal apology and denouncing its
own past involvement. The organi-
zation and the University's failure to
speak out against the actions of its
racist alumni negatively affect the
admission and retention of Native
American students who were guar-
anteed the right to an education in
1817. Until these grave injustices
are addressed, the existence of this
organization continues to threaten
the well-being of Native students and
all students of color on this campus.
The Native American Student Asso-
ciation stands in solidarity with other
organizations that refuse to support
this racist organization and its mem-
bership. Only once we support each
other can true social change prevail.
Casey Kasper is an LSA sopho-
more and NASA co-chair. Brittany
Marino is an LSA junior and NASA
co-chair. Priyanka Pathak is an LSA
junior. Heather Brink is a student in
the School of Public Health. Jordan
Miller is a Rackham student and
NASA treasurer.

Looking to the future by
learning from the past

BY KATIE BANAS AND GERRY SIGNORELLI

ABOVE:
A list of
Michigamua's
1907
members.
LEFT:
Michigamua's
Initiation
ceremony,
Rope Day at
the Michigan
Union, for the
class of 1976
( Courtesy of
Bentley Historical
Library).

LEFT:
Michigamua's
totem pole
at the 1961
Michigamua
60th reunion.
The location is
not identified.
(Courtesy
of Bentley
Historical
Library).
BOTTOM:
Michigamua's
Class of 2000,
the first to
accept women,
Swith former
President
-~Gerald Ford,
member of
the Michigamua
class of 1935
(Courtesy of
Michigamua).

Michigan
Daily Online
Poll
Do you think
student groups
were right to expel
M ichigamua
members from
their organizations?

In a recent piece,Michigan Daily columnist Mara Gay
cast an appropriate perspective on the Michigamua
debate (Bigger than Michigamua, 01/30/2006), imply-
ing that the overarching issues concerning student life at
the University are more important than Michigamua. As
an organization dedicated to leadership and humble ser-
vice to the University, we wholeheartedly agree, and for
more than 100 years have inculcated this viewpoint into
all members with the phrase "Michigan is Bigger than
Michigamua."
However, what is also clear from the article and other
sources is that misconceptions remain, many of which
have been intentionally construed by those wishing to
define Michigamua as something it is not. Of course, we
recognize that by being a quiet organization it has been
far easier for mistruths to take on the perception of fact.
Michigamua is not a racist organization; rather, it is a
highly diverse group of student leaders from a very wide
range of campus organizations. Our role is not to gener-
ate the future political agenda of the United States, but to
serve the University.
Michigamua recognizes that its past practices required
a change many years ago. However, as a long-standing
member of the University community, we also recognize
that it is necessary to understand history in its relative
context, rather than allowing others to manipulate it
for dishonest purposes. It is important to point out that
demanding the eradication of Michigamua because of
past practices - that may now be judged inappropriate
when viewed through a contemporary lens - is tanta-
mount to calling for the abolition of not only the whole
of the U.S. government, but also labor unions, interest
groups and some of the very same minority organiza-
tions launching accusations against Michigamua.
Tactics being used against Michigamua members are
more befitting of neo-McCarthyism than a principled
opposition of respectable University student groups.
Allowing students to baselessly convict Michigamua
without offering its members the opportunity to dispel
conventional mistruths amounts to nothing more than
basic hypocrisy. Are those individuals so focused on sen-
sationalism, and bent against acknowledging true prog-
ress has occurred, that no solution will ever satisfy them?
That this is occurring at the University is particularly
anomalous, for the tradition of stellar student leadership
on our campus runs deep.
By basing a conviction of Michigamua on a string
of inaccuracies, are these individuals truly allowing the
campus to heal and reach a way forward? As such, before
addressing any of the larger issues surrounding our orga-
nization, we must debunk the prevalent mythology of
Micn himl(n amustod WeA will n nt hide from

to consider the following truths:
Michigamua is no more exclusive than numerous
other organizations on campus, such as other honor soci-
eties, leadership councils and executive boards. We invite
up to 25 students each year who have excelled in any of
the numerous activities on campus. We choose not to
flaunt membership or use it for personal gain but rather
continue to serve the University without recognition.
Michigamua held to its 1989 agreement to remove
all Native American symbolism. As a gesture of this sin-
cerity, Michigamua voluntarily invited members of the
Native American community to audit its meeting space
during the 1990s; there was nothing to hide because the
new symbolism of Michigamua was centered entirely
on the University itself. Regardless, such symbols are
separate from the core values and mission of our orga-
nization, including leadership, service and unwavering
dedication to the University.
During the 2000 break-in of Michigamua's meeting
space, the occupiers intentionally staged a display of Native
American items that were not a part of Michigamua activi-
ties in order to manipulate public opinion. The first time
members of Michigamua even knew of their existence
was through seeing them in the Daily the next day: "(N)o
one in our current class was ever aware of the artifacts that
were uncovered in the dusty attic. This is by no means an
excuse of ignorance, as we take full responsibility for the
belongings that are ours. We are just as deeply offended
by the finding in the attic and are very hurt for the Native
Americans and also ourselves for being misrepresented,'
(Society wants resolution, 02/11/2000). By sensationalizing
the entire episode for media consumption, the occupiers
used this event to deceive the University and purposely
cause controversy in order to elevate their own status.
These above assertions remind us that as a campus
community, our institutional memory is often too short,
and the fragmented pieces that are passed down are often
not the whole of the story.
What we can all agree on is that prior to 1990, Mich-
igamua used Native American symbolism that led to
unintended, but offensive, consequences. In retrospect,
Michigamua should have ended that practice before
the 1989 agreement. With the continuity of a tradition
extending beyond four generations, such a course cor-
rection required significant introspection. With dialogue
and reflection, we have a much better appreciation for
why it was the right thing to do.
With this in mind, we continue to invite the Native
American community to join in a dialogue with Mich-
igamua. To reiterate, the only path to resolution is if we
can all come to the table with a genuine spirit of regard
for the worth of others.
School of Nursing senior Katie Banas and LSA
senior Gerrv iannrlli suhmitted this statmpnt which

Yes
22%
No
72%

Undecided
6%
Survey based on an unrep-
resentative sample on
michigandaily.com.

I

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