Below, for your reading pleasure, is the complete text of a lawsuit filed against Michigamua and the University of Michigan last week in Washtenaw County Circuit Court. The formatting is a bit screwy — sorry, this was a rush file conversion job.
STATE OF MICHIGAN
IN THE WASHTENAW COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT
Plaintiff class representatives,
v CASE NO. 06- CK
REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN,
CHRISTOPHER J. BELL (P63324)
Attorney for Plaintiffs
3188 Bolgos Circle
Ann Arbor, MI 48105-1564
NOW COME CHRISTOPHER BELL and JOHN DOE, by and through their attorney,
CHRISTOPHER J. BELL, and say,
1. Plaintiff class representatives are individuals, and residents of the County of Washtenaw, State of Michigan.
2. Plaintiff class representative, CHRISTOPHER BELL (“Bell”), is a Native American who was a student at The University of Michigan between November 1, 1989, and February 6,2000.
3. Plaintiff class representative, JOHN DOE (“Doe”), is a Native American who was a paid employee of The University of Michigan between November 1, 1989 and February 6, 2000, and because plaintiff is still currently employed by Defendant, desires to remain anonymous to avoid any sort of retribution as a result of his status in this action.
4. Defendant REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN (“University”) is
the governing body of The University of Michigan, a public university of the State of Michigan.
5. Defendant MICHIGAMUA (“Michigamua”) is an unincorporated voluntary
organization within the State of Michigan.
6. The amount in controversy is greater than $25,000.00, and is, therefore, within the
exclusive jurisdiction of this court.
COUNT I – BREACH OF CONTRACT
7. Plaintiff class representatives incorporate by reference their allegations contained
in paragraphs 1 through 6.
8. In 1901, the group Michigamua was formed at The University of Michigamua.
Within a few years, ceremonies, rituals, activities, individual nicknames for members, costumes
for members’ activities, and songs and poems were developed that were all related to Native
American or at least pseudo-Native American traditions and culture, generally as popularized in
mainstream white society through the media of the time. Much of such activities can be charac-
terized as a one-dimensional, early Hollywood caricature of ignorant white depictions of Native
American culture and traditions. For many years, only white males from the student body were
selected to be members by the previous year’s membership.
9. By 1930, Michigamua had been given exclusive, and essentially permanent, space
by University in the top floor of the tower of the Michigan Union. Over the years, the group
transformed the large room into what was intended to look like the inside of a huge wigwam.
For years the group involved every President of the University in their annual spring ceremonies,
which often took place right on the lawn of the President’s house. Early still photos and video in
storage at the University’s library show depictions of members of Michigamua dressed in
loincloths and feathers, with some in full headdresses, smoking a big pipe and carrying on in
10. Sometime during 1973, a Native American student filed a complaint with the
Michigan Civil Rights Commission claiming that such activities, some of which were regularly conducted outside in full view of all students at special places in the middle of campus, were
demeaning, belittling, and disrespectful to Native Americans. A subsequent decision by that
body stated that such activities should not take place in public where they can be injurious to
Native American students.
11. In 1989, another Native American student complained about the continuation of
such activities by the group Michigamua. On November 1, 1989, a written agreement
(“Agreement”) was signed by the student complainant, representatives of Michigamua, and by
representatives of the University, a copy of which is attached as Exhibit A.
12. Sometime between September 1, 1993 and December 20, 1994, while a student at
the University, Bell heard the sound of pseudo-Native American singing and drumming coming
out of the top floor windows of the tower of the Michigan Union. Bell learned that it was
performed by members of Michigamua, and could be heard every week during their late night
meetings. Bell was incredulous that such activities could still be taking place on campus. Bell
felt betrayed, demeaned, insulted, belittled. Bell was not aware that the Agreement existed,
and did not find out it existed until sometime after February 6, 2000, when Michigamua’s tower
space was entered and occupied by student protesters.
13. Doe became aware of such activities of Michigamua between November 1, 1989
and February 6, 2000. Doe felt demeaned, insulted, degraded, and mocked by the singing and
drumming. To him, such trivializing of what he considered to be serious activities when carried
out by Native Americans, was an insult and a desecration. Additionally, because he was a paid
employee of University, Doe felt that his work environment was hostile and offensive. Doe
was, also, never aware of the existence of the Agreement until after February 6, 2000.
14. The Agreement is a contract among the signatories to it, with a bargained-for
exchange of obligations assigned to all parties, for which they all provided substantial
consideration. When the University and Michigamua signed the Agreement they were aware
that Native Americans considered the Michigamua “ceremonies, references and representations”
to be “offensive”, and therefore agreed, as a result, to “hereby eliminate all references to Native
American culture and pseudo-culture and extensions and parodies thereof . . . for now and
forever.” By suggesting that violations may result in “prosecution to the fullest extent of the law,
including involvement of the [Michigan] Civil Rights Commission”, all signatories to the
contractual agreement understood that the subject of the contract was maintaining the civil rights
of Native American students, staff, and faculty who must try to work in an environment which is
not hostile or offensive to their beliefs, traditions, customs, or values.
15. The University has considered the group Michigamua to be a student group, like
dozens of others that it oversees through one of its various departments. There are regulations
that all prospective student groups must abide by before they can be considered an official
student group, and to which they must abide in order to maintain that status. Those regulations
require that they at all time respect the dignity and diversity of those around them. Healthy
debate and disagreement is one thing, but disparaging another group’s culture is not allowed.
Therefore, being on notice that one racial group has repeatedly complained about Michigamua’s
behavior and activities and, more importantly, being aware that Michigamua had contracted to
never engage in such activities again, the University, and through its Regents, had a duty to make
sure that Michigamua abided by the contract. As a signatory to the Agreement the University
implicitly bound itself as monitor and overseer of Michigamua to ensure that the group did
not violate the agreement.
16. The University breached the contract by failing to monitor that Michigamua abide
by the contract and not engage in the prohibited behaviors. The University either knew that
Michigamua was continuing to violate the contract, or it engaged in deliberate blindness in not
inquiring or monitoring Michigamua’s activities. Upon information and belief Michigamua, as a
group and its individual alumni, have significantly contributed financially to the University.
Because of the pecuniary benefit that the University receives from Michigamua, the University
continued to ignor or acted indifferently toward Michigamua’s violation of the Agreement.
17. Native Americans who were either students, staff, or faculty between November
1, 1989, and February 6, 2000, are third party intended beneficiaries of the Agreement, and
have been injured by Defendants. Their civil rights have been violated. Defendants’ malice and
wilful and wanton reckless disregard for plaintiff class’ rights, have inspired in them feelings of
humiliation, outrage, and indignity.
Plaintiff class representatives, Bell and Doe, request the following relief:
A. That it be declared that Defendants breached the contract with Plaintiff class, all
Native Americans who were students, staff, or faculty anytime between November 1, 1989 and
February 6, 2000 who were not aware of the existence of the contract until after the occupation of
the tower on February 6, 2000.
B. That such class be certified upon subsequent motion by Plaintiffs.
C. Plaintiffs request judgment against Defendant in the amount to be determined by
the trier of fact, including compensatory and exemplary damages, and costs and attorney fees.
D. Plaintiffs request a jury trial.
CHRISTOPHER J. BELL (P63324)
Attorney for Plaintiffs