Maitland Bowen, the chair of the Native American Student Association presented to the Michigan Union Board of Representatives on Monday evening about how the University of Michigan can help the Native American community feel more included and respected on campus. About 50 students and community members attended the event.
Bowen proposed that the Union’s first-floor south lounge be renamed to honor Native American students and community members.
On behalf of NASA and their supporters, Bowen said that if the lounge were to be renamed, it would be one effort made by the University to recognize past offensive practices of the student organization, the Order of Angell, toward the Native American community. In 1902, then-University President James Angell founded the student organization, which many consider a secret society, under the name “Michigamua,” the Ojibwe word for water.
Michigamua met on the seventh floor in the tower of the Union. Their meeting space resembled a wigwam and displayed Native American statues and artifacts. The organization further appropriated Native American culture by incorporating Native practices into their meeting rituals.
In 2000, the Students of Color Coalition led a 37-day demonstration at the Union, protesting Michigamua’s appropriation of Native American culture in their organization’s practices. After the sit-in, the University banned Michigamua from using the tower as a meeting space. Seven years later, Michigamua was reinstated under the name Order of Angell, a tribute to their founder.
Currently, the Order of Angell is again affiliated with the University. According to the organization’s website, the Order of Angell is made up of “leaders from the many diverse corners of campus” and seeks to “promote interconnectedness at Michigan, develop leadership and engage in short and long-term leadership projects.”
At the meeting, NASA asked the University to take appropriate action by renaming the lounge and designating it as a space for NASA to gather and exclusively reserve for community events. Bowen said she believes the new Union renovation presents an important opportunity for the University to begin to repair the harm done over the years to the Native American community by the Order of Angell.
“What we are asking is for the same level of permanence and priority that has been placed on James Angell and the Order over the years,” Bowen said.
In addition to Angell Hall named after Angell, a plaque outside the Union’s entrance commemorates the former University president. However, there is no place on campus dedicated solely to Native American students.
Bowen discussed initiatives of other universities to acknowledge their Native American student population. Colleges including Michigan State University, University of California Berkeley, University of Minnesota and others all have spaces dedicated to the Native American community.
“Clearly, it is not irregular to have a physical space for native and indigenous students on campus, especially at a university as large and as endowed as Michigan is,” Bowen said.
Bowen also spoke about how Native Americans were instrumental in founding the University. In the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs, also called the Treaty of Fort Rapids, Native American tribes ceded their land to the University of Michigan. According to Bowen, this treaty was the beginning of University and Native American relations.
By renaming the south lounge, Bowen said she believes the University could take an important, relatively simple and cost-free first step in recognizing and appreciating the role Native Americans played in allowing the University to exist.
“We are more than just our histories but we have to actually make changes so that these histories are not forgotten,” Bowen said. “This is in no way an easy presentation to give. Nobody, no student and no student organization should ever feel like they have to justify their place on this campus or in the Union.”
In the following Q&A portion of the event, Bowen addressed the logistics of the proposal. Since the Union closed for renovation, NASA has struggled to secure a regular meeting space. According to Bowen, multicultural rooms meant for many student organizations to use are often full and dominated by larger groups that meet more frequently. With the exception of November, which is Native American Heritage Month, NASA only books a meeting space a couple of times a month and doesn’t withhold study spaces from students.
One question from the audience was geared towards the Board. In anticipation of the Union’s opening day in January, the Board invited NASA to be present at the ceremony. Later, the Board offered NASA the opportunity to present on what the Union could do to make NASA feel more included and represented. Amy White, director of the Union, said they invited NASA based on the need to recognize the history of racial discrimination associated with the Union.
“Knowing the history of Michigamua in this space, and the harm that has been done over the years … that was what was behind the invitation — to acknowledge that a great deal of harm had been done to the community,” White said.
Audience member Alan Haber also spoke up at the event. Haber, who enrolled in the University in 1954, is an activist and was the first president of Students for a Democratic Society which first met in Ann Arbor in 1960.
Haber said the act of renaming would be representative of a restorative deed.
“Land that belonged to other people was taken as our own, us being settlers,” Haber said, referencing early colonization in America. “It seems important not only restoratively, but symbolically in the future to have some piece of land ceded back to the Native American community.”
Haber reiterated Bowen, stressing the need for a place on campus where Native Americans can celebrate their culture and be recognized by the University.
White closed the event, thanking Bowen and NASA for the presentation and working with the Union to establish better relations.
The Daily spoke with Bowen following the presentation. Overall, Bowen said she was pleased with how engaged and invested the Board was in creating a better environment where every student can feel represented. Bowen also thanked the students and community members that came to support her and NASA.
“I’m glad that we had so much community support,” Bowen said. “This is an issue that is incredibly important to so many people and I’m glad that (the Board) seemed to hear it and take it very seriously. I’m looking forward to working with them to get this done.”
At the end of the presentation, the Board did not give a final verdict and did not address when they would release a decision.
Reporter Lily Gooding can be reached at email@example.com