Ok, people, I’m trying to give the old ‘gamua beat a break, but with big news, I just can’t resist:
Ann Arbor News: Suit claims U-M, secret society violate Native-American rights
Story archived after the jump.
Suit claims U-M, secret society violate Native-American rights
Saturday, February 11, 2006
News Staff Reporter
A former University of Michigan student has sued the university and Michigamua, a secret honorary society, claiming they have violated the civil rights of Native American students, staff and faculty.
Christopher Bell, an attorney from Ann Arbor, filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and another former student identified only as John Doe.
The suit, filed Mondayin Washtenaw County Circuit Court, alleges that the organization didn’t abide by an agreement signed in 1989 that it wouldn’t demean Native Americans.
Michigamua was founded as a student service society in 1902, using Native American themes. U-M students were selected by the organization. Members sometimes painted themselves red and wore loin cloths and headdresses during their rituals. Former President Gerald Ford, U-M hockey coach Red Berenson and the late broadcaster, Bob Ufer, are among its more well-known alumni.
The organization came under fire in February 2000 when U-M student protesters began a sit-in at the Michigamua room in the tower of the Michigan Union. The protesters said the society’s use of Native American artifacts and rituals were insulting and debased the Native American culture. The protest led to the eventual removal of the organization and its artifacts from the Michigan Union. It now meets off campus.
According to the lawsuit, Michigamua signed an agreement in 1989, after a similar complaint was lodged against the society, to eliminate all references to Native American culture.
Bell contends that Michigamua breached the contract and violated the rights of Native American students, staff and faculty members who did not know the agreement existed until after the tower was occupied in February 2000.
The lawsuit said Bell and Doe were not aware of the earlier agreement. “Doe felt demeaned, insulted, degraded and mocked by the singing and drumming,” the complaint said. “To him, such trivializing of what he considered to be serious activities when carried out by Native Americans, was an insult and a desecration.”
The complaint contends U-M breached the agreement by failing to make sure that Michigamua abided by the agreement.
“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.”
The lawsuit asks the court to certify the lawsuit as class-action. It seeks an unspecified amount of damages.
U-M spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the university has no comment on the lawsuit.
Sam Woll, member of Michigamua, Class of 2006, said she hadn’t heard about the suit. “We have not been contacted regarding any lawsuit, nor informed as to the grounds for which any legal action would be justified,” she said in a written statement.
Bell, a Native American who attended the university from 1989 to 2000, did not return several calls asking for comment for this story.
The suit says Doe was an employee of the university from 1989-2000 and is not being named in the suit because he is employed by the university and fears retaliation as a result of the lawsuit.
Liz Cobbs can be reached at 734-994-6810 or firstname.lastname@example.org.