The Order of Angell, formerly known as Michigamua, has disbanded without any serious reparation for the years of indignity and harm caused to Indigenous peoples. The work of BIPOC Order alumni and students has been instrumental in stopping this institution’s perpetuation. At the end of their website’s apologetic history page is a link to the Bentley Historical Library’s Order of Angell records. You can’t view the actual materials online, but if you request them ahead of time, helpful staff will bring the records out to warmly lit reading desks for you. No pens are allowed, liquids are prohibited and gloves are provided. The records have the name “Michigamua” crossed out on the large boxes and replaced with “Order of Angell” in Sharpie. Call number 87248: a collection of musty boxes and oversized folders that hides an insidious history.
Nearly a century of archival materials kept in the Bentley Historical Library does more than just document the organization’s misdeeds. I have sifted through these materials numerous times, trying to understand the blueprints that layout tomahawk wall-accents on their custom-made “wigwam” in the Michigan Union tower. Trying to parse through each member, each of whom has a dedicated “Indian name” such as Silver Throat and Dick Weake on the yearly pride’s roster. There are so many small moments in their sprawling history: letters between friends, initiation blindfolds and pictures of old white men at outdoor banquets in front of totem poles. The sheer enormity, the utter banality, the paper trail of white supremacy was right before me looking at the Michigamua archives.
Image courtesy of David Forsee, photographed from the Order of Angell archives in the Bentley Historical Library.
While photographing these records, a library aide came up to me and asked me if I’d like to see a sculpture in the back garden of the Bentley. In this library’s graveyard of unwanted icons was a stone tomahawk medallion. Without any collection number, two feet wide, it lay covered in moss on the ground. We both stared at it for a moment. No one wanted to deal with the now-culturally insensitive relic, and now it was in the care of the library.
Michigamua’s true legacy was an opportunity for predominantly white Michigan students to bastardize Indigenous culture. One only needs to go to the Bentley and see for themselves the photographic evidence, as well as the excuses and artifacts of U-M’s home-grown white supremacist organization. The following comes from an account of Rope Day, an initiation ritual for Michigamua, taken directly from the Bentley records:
“Our rope day ceremony started at the rooms. We covered ourselves with dry paint mixed with water and donned an Indian blanket, a head dress of feathers, and a jook strap. We ran, skipped and howled down the State Street side of the campus carrying a long rope. Most of the braves were so winded that we had to stop and rest several times. We would sit down and ‘hold a pow wow’ intermingled with occasional war whoops.
“The young bucks gathered at the foot of the Tappan Oak at Six booms. We circled the tree with the rope, binding them against it, tore their shirts off and doused them (with) dry paint and water. Then we started beating them with snow shoes, rope and barrel staves.”
Image courtesy of David Forsee, photographed from the Order of Angell archives in the Bentley Historical Library. This photograph continues the account of Rope Day, the first two paragraphs of which are included above.
I will pause here to let anyone who wishes to see the mark of Michigamua look at the red-stained bark of the Tappan Oak in our Diag. Stopping just past human height, the paint stains the tree even after all these years.
Michigamua, even in disbanding, still manages to disappoint — disbanding will never erase its past. In their letter issued after disbanding, they claimed that, “We realized that any actions we could take would not be adequate in healing the past and improving the future of the organization. Ultimately, the historical lack of transparency and sufficient action prevent the achievement of this core mission.” While acknowledging their past is a positive step, they must go further. Past members must engage in some measure of reparation and restorative justice before their organization is allowed to fade into the miasma of “past mistakes.”
As of right now, the only legacy Michigamua has left behind is within the Bentley Library and the harm they’ve done. It is critical for our community to remember this harm and ensure that another organization will not find a place on our campus.
David Forsee is a graduate of the BFA InterArts Performance program. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
** Editor’s Note: The Daily was independently unable to corroborate if the red paint still remains on the tree to this day, but believes this inclusion is important to the story. At the same time, however, the Bentley Historical Library provides a shocking image of this event.