Students were locked in debate last night long after University
alum Melissa Lopez Pope finished relating her story about the
history of the Native American campus community.

Kate Green
JASON COOPER/Daily
Native American activist Melissa Lopez Pope speaks in Angell Hall last night.

Pope spoke about her experiences on campus and interactions
between the Native American community and the secret society
Michigamua, whose use of Native American symbols in its initiation
ceremonies and activities outraged many members of the campus
community.

Pope said she and others have stepped forward over the years to
protest the group’s stereotypical use of drums, loincloths,
headdresses and the taking on of “Indian names.”

Native American students and Michigamua members have gone to the
negotiating table multiple times to discuss these improprieties,
Pope said, but Michigamua violated agreements. While she said they
no longer hold offensive initiation rituals on the Diag, issues
such as the name of the group still remain.

“It got to a point where it was made very clear that what
they would never give up was their name,” she said, referring
to past conversations with members of Michigamua. Many Native
Americans see the group’s name as disrespectful and as just
another “pseudo-relation” to the culture, Pope
said.

She said she was committed to trying to change the environment
for future Native American students, and to increasing the Native
American presence on campus.

Discussion between audience members arose following her speech
— passionate words from students opposed to Michagamua as
well as from three Michigamua members, who said they attended the
event out of curiosity and interest.

Confronted with accusations about his group, LSA senior and
Michigamua member Sean Carmody stood up in the back of the Angell
Hall auditorium to voice his opinion.

“We’re here for one thing, to fight like hell for
Michigan through Michigamua. It’s about us working together
through our organizations to improve this University to the best of
our ability,” he said.

While Carmody recognized that there are some people who are
still upset with past events, he said the organization looks to the
future while remembering its history.

“I just want it to come across, the truth, that
we’re not a racist organization,” he said. “We
don’t want this stigma to be a part of our organization 20
years from now.”

Another Michigamua member, who would not give his name, told the
crowd of more than 50 people that Michigamua practices have
changed. While he doesn’t feel the group’s name should
change, he said Michigamua is involved in a different kind of
pursuit.

“I don’t dismiss what happened but I am taking the
stance that this happened and that things have changed,” he
said. “We’re moving in a different direction, and I
want to be part of that moving in a different direction, I want to
be part of that movement.”

Engineering sophomore Josh Traylor said attending the event made
him want to learn more about the issues facing the Native American
community on campus. He said he was intrigued by the conversation
about whether the name of the organization should be changed, and
what the lack of recognition “that the name could ever be
offensive” means about the way Native Americans are
viewed.

Traylor said there would be little debate if a group or sports
team took on a name related to another ethnic identity.

“(The members present from Michigamua) basically seem to
deny anything about the name being an imitation of Native American
culture, but when I was bringing up sports teams, the Braves, the
Redskins — when I brought in other races to it, it’s
very clear cut, ‘no that’s wrong,’ ” he
said. “But when it comes to Native Americans, basically it
seems like they’re a group that has yet to win respect from
all parts of society.”

Last night’s event was part of an effort to educate a new
group of students, many of who were not around like he was when
recent history with regard to these issues was being made, said
Edgar Garza, president of Lambda Theta Phi. He added that students
should make an effort to look into their campus’ past.

“This is a really old school and a lot of prejudiced
things have happened on campus. This is just a part of it,”
he said. “(Michigamua) still exists. They said they stopped
using the Native American rituals and sacred practices in their
everyday practices but they also said that in 1989 and it turned
out they were still doing it.”

Steven Abbott, coordinator for Native American Student Services
for Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, said he hoped the event would
raise awareness of how the Native American community has been
treated at the University.

He spoke of both the importance of remembering the history and
the relevance of the debate that took place following the
presentation.

“I think the dialogue’s out there — both
communities were able to present their sides of the story. I
don’t know how much of a conclusion there will ever be to
this, but I think the point was made very clearly that
Michigamua’s history is part of its present,” he said.
“Whether or not it’s embraced or recognized by its
current members, it’s still very present for the Native
community and others.”

The event was presented by the Native American Student
Association and Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity as part of the
2003 Native American Heritage Celebration.

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