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The Saga of the EMU Hurons

The Saga of the EMU Hurons image The Saga of the EMU Hurons image
Author
Jack Minzey
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

In 1991, an event took place at Eastern Michigan University that was to shake the foundations of the institution and to become a dividing force for years to come. The beginning of the event was a complaint by an EMU student that the name Huron and the logo of an Indian were negative reflections on the American Indian and discriminatory to Indian students. The motivation for the complaint had come from the staff of the Office of Student Affairs. The complaint was lodged with the Office of the Michigan Civil Rights, and the President of EMU, Dr. William Shelton, was notified of this complaint. President Shelton reacted by appointing a committee to investigate the nature of the complaint and to report to his office with a recommendation which could then go to the Board of Regents. Dr. Gene Smith, Director of Athletics, was appointed to head this committee. Dr. Smith was a task master, and the investigation was both intensive and thorough. Our committee met and laid out a plan as to how we would proceed. The investigation went on for several months and consisted of numerous activities which resulted in significant findings. One group from the committee was selected to identify the background of the problem. It was discovered that the name Huron and the logo had been the result of a contest at Michigan State Normal College in the 1920s. The person who proposed the nickname was an American Indian student. Further investigations revealed that there were 250 organizations and businesses in Washtenaw County that had the word Huron in their name. It was also discovered that the name Huron was applied to a river, county, lake and several streets. In fact, only a few months earlier, the Board of Regents had petitioned the county to have the road in front of the University Golf course and Conference Center renamed Huron Street. It was obvious that Huron was a term of endearment in the local area. Another report came from the committee members researching the name Hurons. It was reported that the name Huron was actually a French word and that the Huron Indians were referred to as Hurons because of their location relative to Lake Huron. Despite the fact that claims had been made that the Huron Tribes were extinct, it was discovered that the Hurons were actually Wyandottes and that there were thousands of Wyandottes living throughout North America, led by two chiefs; Chief Leanord Bearskin from Oklahoma who was also a Lt. Col. in the United States Army, and Chief Max Gros-Louis from Quebec, Canada. At the same time, a series of surveys were taking place among the University constituents. These included faculty, students, staff and alumni. When these results were tabulated, over 90% of each group indicated that they favored keeping the name Huron and seeking another logo. Interestingly, this was also the opinion of the 70 American Indian Students on campus. Dr. Smith arranged to hold open hearings on this topic on campus. The hearings provided a place where various groups and individuals could express their feelings and air their emotions. Dr. Smith ran the sessions in an efficient way, and the sessions were always kept on task. At one of these sessions, the Michigan Civil Rights representative indicated that their office did not have an objection to the use of the word Huron. They just wanted to be assured that the logo was used in a tasteful and dignified way. While all of this was happening, several other events were going on which represented the heat being generated by the issue with some activities bordering on the bizarre. Opponents to the name and logo demonstrated on campus and distributed flyers indicating their position. One group of supporters hired an attorney who appeared at the Regents’ meetings to express their opposition. His approach was very aggressive and accusatory and in reality, probably did more to undermine his position than to enhance his cause. During one meeting with the alumni board, the President of the University was shouted down by hecklers which resulted in some very bad feelings on all sides. At a meeting of the Regents, a purported Cherokee from Saline, Chief Yellowhawk, appeared in full regalia, including headdress and tom toms. He went through several dances and chants and then had unlimited time to speak to the Regents. His position was that he opposed both the name and the logo since he felt both were discriminatory to his tribe. Interestingly, a few months after this issue was officially resolved, it was discovered that he was not an American Indian, and he had been charged, arrested and imprisoned for a capital crime. The supporters of the name arranged for Chief Bearskin to come to Ypsilanti and give his support to those wishing to keep the name and the logo. Arrangements were made to fly him to the University, and he was placed on the agenda of a coming Regents’ meeting. He did come to campus at the appointed date and time, but the Regents cancelled their meeting, and thus, it was not possible for him to have his input on the subject. This, of course, just added to the hostility. Because of this perceived disrespect of the Wyandotte Chief, the supporters created the “Huron Manifesto” which was a document signed by both chiefs as an indication of their desire to have the name Hurons remain as a part of Eastern Michigan University by stating their support for the “Restoration of the Huron name and emblem…” The committee also investigated one other situation which they felt was relevant to their charge. Central Michigan University had gone through a similar experience. They too had involved the local chiefs and were able to come up with an acceptable solution. In their case, at the direction of the Chippewa Tribe, they kept the name Chippewas but eliminated the logo. For their new logo, they adopted the block C. Now, with all this information, it was time to report to the Regents with a recommendation. All of the evidence seemed to point to a solution similar to Central’s. It would be suggested that Eastern keep the name Hurons and seek a new logo. At the Regents meeting, Dr. Smith gave his report in a very convincing fashion. It then appeared that the board was going to vote favorably on his recommendation However, before the vote could be taken, Regent Burton, an Afro-American and President of the Board of Regents, asked to address the board. He gave an impassioned speech, relating what it was like to be a minority and how he felt the name and logo were discriminatory. Caught by surprise, the board decided to table the motion and reconsider it the following month. They then charged President Sheldon to come to the next board meeting, prepared to recommend a suitable logo. When the following regents meeting arrived, things changed dramatically. Prior to the vote on the motion, President Shelton asked to address the board. Those who knew him knew that he was an outstanding speaker, and in a very emotional presentation, he told the board that he considered both the name and the logo to be offensive and recommended that the board discard both. Then, Regent Burton rose and made his comments. He said that during the past month, he had talked to many of his friends and fellow minorities and that he felt that he had been wrong in his comments at the previous meeting. He said that he now felt that the board should keep the name and find another logo. Now the board was perplexed. The issue was no longer the name and the logo. It had now become whether the board should support the president or the chairman of the board. As it turned out, the vote was split with the president being the decisive factor. The decision was to result in a major revolt on behalf of those who were angry about the decision, especially the alumni. There was an organized reaction which resulted in less financial and overt support for the University. There was also an organized effort by certain university administrators to ban all evidence of Huron verbiage or paraphernalia from the campus. Huron supporters were not allowed to participate in any event associated with Eastern Michigan University, and Huron supporters organized the largest EMU alumni chapter and called it the Huron Chapter. And while the degree of dissatisfaction has diminished over the intervening years, the bitterness still exists and will probably do so until those people who were loyal Hurons are no longer around. The interesting thing about this entire event is that with all the effort invested in trying to come up with an appropriate solution, and with the vast majority of everyone involved desiring to remain Hurons, the decision came down to speeches by two people. And had the vote taken place one month earlier, Eastern Michigan University students, faculty, staff and alumni would still be identified as Hurons. (Jack Minzey is a retired Eastern Michigan University faculty member and administrator and a member of the Ypsilanti Morning Coffee Group.)

Photo Captions: 1. The EMU Huron logo that created so much controversy on and off the campus.