Much of the talk about Michigamua, and the crux of the lawsuit filed last week in Washtenaw County Court, is a 1989 agreement between the university, Michigamua, and Native American students, that the organization would abandon all references to Native American Culture. In 2000, 11 years after that agreement was signed, the Student of Color Coalition discovered that the organization’s “Wigwam” in the Michigan Union still held many authentic and imitation Native American artifacts in violation of their agreement to abandoned this part of their identity.
Before now, I have only read about this agreement, and never seen a copy for myself. Yet a copy of the lawsuit sent to me contained it as an addendum. I’ve already run the text of the complaint, but here’s an image of the 1989 agreement in question. (Or click on the image to the right.) It’s quite straight forward, with the organization promising to eliminate “all references to Native American culture and pseudo-culture and extensions and parodies thereof, with the one exception being the name, Michigamua, for now and forever.”
The Daily has recently published some commentary about the meaning of this document, their editorial board weighing in on the side of activists in January. Here are a couple opposing op-eds which ran in response:
> ” Michigamua has troubled past”
> “Looking to the future by learning from the past”
I’ve posted a plaintext version of 1989 agreement, along with a cleaner version of the lawsuit, on my blog, for those interested.
It is clear to me the “agreement” is not a “contract” that is breachable in traditional terms. The “remedy” of breach is that Michigamua can be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” which means that in this case the plaintiffs have to have some aspect of the law that was violated. They may indeed have a hostile environment claim, but that’s much harder to prove; and I think it they might have a retaliation claim in the case of Shannon Price as Rob points out, but I think those claims are against the University, not the students or Michigamua organization. Since the organization conducted of all of its actions in secrecy, it would be hard to argue they created a hostile environment (although the complaint alleges some facts about “hearing” them in 1994 – I suspect the statute of limitations will toll on that). I have no sympathy for U-M in this case, but I suspect good lawyers will chew this one up.
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