The University Record, February 21, 2000


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Michigamua not racist, does not condone cultural ridicule, alumni say

An open letter to the University community:

Native American archival items forcibly extricated from their storage in the Union Tower and staged in mockery throughout Michigamua’s meeting space represent an irresponsible misappropriation of cultural history and are, frankly, offensive to all of us. As alumni of the organization Michigamua, we recognized that historical usage of these archival items was deemed offensive in a modern context. As such, in a 1989 agreement with the Native American community, Michigamua ended reference to and usage of this symbolism and all archival items purchased from Native Americans decades ago.

Michigamua exists to foster student leadership and service to the University of Michigan through quiet humility in our activities and without attention. It is from the University that we have reshaped our cultural identity and borrowed symbolism over the last 10 years so that we may continue to lead and serve Michigan. Michigamua does not condone cultural ridicule or racism, but rather, as a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse student organization itself, is actively engaged in generating solutions to the same issues, ironically, for which other groups on campus are also fighting in much more public ways.

We embrace the words of a fellow alumnus: “Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States.” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy’s dissenting opinion, Korematsu v. United States (1944); Michigamua member (1912).

Regardless, the alumni of Michigamua wish to express our deep regret for allowing several boxes of archival items to remain in storage in the Union Tower attic, a serious oversight that has allowed old wounds to be torn open through this sensational, staged publicity.

We take full responsibility for the failure to store properly these valuable archival items, and we express our sincere condolences to the Native American community. However, the exaggerations and accusations levied by the protesters do not represent the principles of Michigamua, nor do they represent the values espoused by the University of Michigan.

Furthermore, we apologize to the current student members of the organization, whose respect and honor have been challenged, and their integrity compromised, for leaving them vulnerable to this form of radical, aggressive and obviously illegal attack. These historical items will be properly relocated such that they will never again be subject to this form of theft or misuse.

The alumni of Michigamua recognize that historical usage of its now archived items was deemed offensive in our modern context; however, we resent Michigamua’s current portrayal as a racist organization that practices cultural ridicule. This is simply untrue and nothing less than an elaborately planned and egregious distortion meant to inflame sensitivities, create division and hype sensationalism in support of an otherwise very worthy cause.

Unequivocally, Michigamua will not accept racism, does not condone cultural ridicule, resents these false accusations.

Joe Devyak, chairman, Michigamua Alumni Association