Native Americans rally against Hurons logo at EMU

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Officials at Eastern Michigan University faced a protest Tuesday from about 50 opponents of the school’s Hurons logo, which Native Americans say should be dropped once and for all because it’s offensive.

The Hurons logo, used for 62 years, was brought back to campus three years ago by President Susan Martin. Though it is not visible, it is on the inside flap of the EMU Marching Band’s uniforms next to another retired mascot, as a nod to the school’s history.

But since the image was revived, Native American students and community leaders have balked and held protests, private meetings and press conferences. U.S. Department of Justice officials met this month with Martin and a student group over concerns about the logo following the alleged harassment of a Native American elder by students near campus.

Tuesday, opponents of the resurrected logo demonstrated outside Welch Hall during a Board of Regents meeting, with participants from groups including the American Indian Movement and Idle No More. They burned sage, played drums and spoke against what they consider disrespect.

“The issue with the logo isn’t just a native problem, it’s everybody’s problem,” said Chris Sutton, an EMU senior who spoke during the Regents meeting as the treasurer of the Native American Student Association. “When you perpetuate the idea that native people are less than human, it causes violence in a community.”

EMU’s Hurons logo was retired in 1991 after a fiery and bitter debate among students, alumni and Native Americans. The change came after the Michigan Civil Rights Commission recommended in 1988 that schools drop the use of Native American names, logos and mascots to avoid promoting negative images. At the time, about 100 Michigan schools were using mascots and scores more across the country.

Even after the university adopted the Eagles mascot, a group known as the Hurons Restoration continued to fight on many fronts to revive it, such as filing for the trademark of the logo. Five years after the change, the group even threatened to ask for the resignation of then-President William Shelton, who alleged that Hurons supporters assaulted his son and pregnant daughter-in-law at a basketball game. Supporters denied the charge.

Martin — who is stepping down next month — brought the logo back to campus in 2012 in part to unite the EMU community, which was divided by the logo controversy when the Huron name and image were dropped and replaced with an Eagles logo. For years afterward, many alumni remained vocally opposed to losing the Huron name and wouldn’t financially support the university.

“It will always be a controversial issue,” Martin said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re trying to embrace everyone. ... The Huron is a part of our history.”

It’s unclear whether the school’s search for a new president will consider where candidates stand on the issue.

Regent Michelle Crumm, who is chairing the search committee, said there are many traits they will be seeking in Martin’s successor.

“The most important is inclusiveness,” said Crumm. “We have a very diverse group at EMU and that needs to be represented in the candidate. Diversity and inclusiveness is a top priority. But how that is interpreted, that operational decision (about the logo) will have to be considered.”

Eastern’s marching band was founded in 1894, when the university was known as Michigan State Normal School, said EMU spokesman Geoff Larcom. The logo at the time was “Normalites,” represented by a block “M,” with “Normalites” inscribed in the M.

“The new marching band uniforms include the historic logos of Normalites and Hurons, representing both eras of the band’s history, on an inside flap of the jacket that is not publicly visible during performances or public appearances,” Larcom said. “The historic logos from our past of Normalites and Hurons are not being added to any other uniforms. We proudly remain the Eastern Michigan University Eagles.”

When EMU added the Hurons logo to the band’s new uniforms three years ago, Amber Morseau was a freshman and a member of the band’s color guard. As a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Nation, she tried to talk to the band leader and other students in the band about her objection to the logo.

“Despite my many attempts at educating people why this was wrong, they didn’t care because they wanted new uniforms,” said Morseau, whose uniform didn’t include the logo. “Many people told me, ‘You can either get over it, or you can quit the band.’ That was the message everyone gave me — either shut up or get out.”

So after her sophomore year, Morseau left.

Now a senior, she has since become the president of the EMU Native American Student Organization and is active in trying to rid the campus of the Hurons logo.

There have been numerous incidents where Native American students have been harassed, Morseau said, but it escalated in April, when a Native American man, Nathan Phillips, approached a party where students were dressed as Native Americans.

He tried to talk to them about respect but the students allegedly verbally assaulted him, threw beer cans at him and told him to go back to the reservation.

Morseau has met several times with Martin, asking her to remove the logos from the band uniforms but has gotten nowhere.

“We have discussed taking legal action but we’re hoping we can get this resolved peacefully,” Morseau said.