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Feb. 7, 2000

Paul Wong
George Martin, an Ojibwe elder, was one of the many demonstrators who rallied in Ann Arbor on Friday Feb. 19, 2000 to support the efforts of SCC protestors who occupied the Union for over a month. (FILE PHOTO)

Members of the Students of Color Coalition took over the tower of the Michigan Union the morning of Feb. 6 – home of three secret societies including Michigamua, an organization that has been berated for alleged exploitation of the Native American culture.

After occupying the Michigamua room for nine hours, the group of eight students made their cause known to the public by hanging Native American artifacts they discovered in Michigamua’s room out of the Union’s seventh story window. Meanwhile, a group of 30 students loomed below, chanting “Down with Michigamua.”

The invasion was part of an attempt by the coalition to demand that the University comply with its mission to foster a healthy and ethnically diverse student body by implementing the coalition’s recommendations.

The morning of Feb. 4, the coalition held a press conference in Mosher-Jordon Residence Hall before delivering a petition to 15 University offices, demanding the University supply a written commitment of its goals to support minorities on campus and to restore order where the coalition claims the University has failed to live up to these goals.

In the 14-article petition signed by more than 450 students, the coalition included a section in which they request that the University “sever all affiliation with and subsidy of the secret society” because of its “offensive and culturally destructive appropriation of Native American culture.”

SNRE senior Joe Reilly said the group took over the tower in an effort to “bring attention to the fact that Michigamua is a racist organization – it is culturally offensive and destructive towards all people. And it has no place being at this institution.”

Coalition members uncovered Native American artifacts and cultural references in their investigation of the Michigamua territory, including headdresses, statues and pictures of Michigamua members performing Native American-like rituals and evidence that the group assigns members jobs including “medicine man.”

Reilly said many of these references are offensive to the Native American culture, especially the “wigwam-like” design of the interior of the building and the use of offensive Native American terms in naming its members, such as Squaw, which he said refers to a woman’s reproductive organs.

Reilly also displayed an agreement signed in 1989 by the president the University’s minority affairs office and members of Michigamua who agreed that the their actions and references to the Native American culture were offensive and would be stopped, with the exception of the organization’s name, which would be forever preserved.

Nick Delgado, a member of Michigamua, said the group has adhered to the integrity of that written statement and in no way exploits the Native American culture as it did in the past. He said the protesters neglect to realize that the group has made mistakes, learned from them and now operates on an entirely socially acceptable level.

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