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Chuck Haga / Forum Communications , Published September 11 2012

In face of its own logo dilemma, Eastern Michigan revives Indian logo on limited basis

Grand Forks - As members of Eastern Michigan University’s marching band stepped onto the field Saturday at halftime of the school’s home football opener against Illinois State, they wore their “Eagles” nickname on the back of their uniforms and a big “E” on the front.

Inside their uniform jackets, though, they wore another logo: an American Indian head with feathers, with the name “Hurons” stitched alongside.

It was not a protest by band members or a signal that the much-revered former logo was returning. It was, university officials said, a small step toward reuniting EMU alumni, still badly divided over a change made more than 20 years ago.

Eastern Michigan had been the Hurons for 62 years until 1991, when the school bowed to pressure from a state civil rights agency, which argued that logo and mascot depictions of Indians were often negative and insensitive. As with the University of North Dakota and its alumni, who were divided over retiring the Fighting Sioux nickname, some EMU alums vowed they would not contribute to the university if their logo was not restored.

Among the lingering questions over UND’s now-retired Fighting Sioux nickname: How long will the bitterness last for those who defended it, and how long will efforts to revive it go on?

As the nickname became mired in legal, political and electoral skirmishes the past few years, UND had a committee working on plans to honor and preserve the history of the 80-plus Sioux and Fighting Sioux years. That committee has been discontinued, though the university still must determine how to use the name and logo periodically to preserve trademark rights.

Through a spokesman, UND President Robert Kelley declined to comment on the Eastern Michigan situation and what it might say about the future at UND.

Some EMU alumni at Saturday’s football game told website AnnArbor.com they were pleased by the Huron logo’s return.

“I realize that they’re not going to go completely back to the Hurons, but it’s nice that they recognized it a little more out in the open,” said Mike Nielson, who started taking classes at EMU in 1974.

And Jennifer Ramirez, who graduated from EMU in 1996, told the Detroit News, “I am a Huron and always will be. It’s about time people stood up and said, ‘Let’s bring it back.’”

EMU President Susan Martin conferred with alumni on the plan to include the Huron logo on new band uniforms, the News reported. “It’s showing respect to the past, but embracing the fact that we are all together under the block ‘E’ and love Eastern,” she said.

The Detroit News report noted that not everyone was pleased with the limited revival.

“I don’t like native people being used as mascots in any situation,” said Fay Givens, director of American Indian Services at EMU, who championed changing the logo in 1991.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission had recommended in 1988 that all state schools drop the use of American Indian names, logos and mascots, alleging that they promoted negative images. Eastern Michigan made the change three years later, despite vigorous opposition from alumni and – again, as at UND – despite avowals by some Indians that they saw no reason for the Huron name to go.

“Our stance has always been we didn’t see it as anything but an honor,” Billy Friend, chief of the Oklahoma-based Wyandotte Nation, told the Detroit News. The Wyandotte Nation is the only federally recognized band that once lived in Michigan and was known as Hurons.

“We never saw it as demeaning,” Friend said.

Despite longstanding opposition to UND’s nickname by their tribal council, some members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have made the same assertion, that they are honored and not offended by UND’s use of the Sioux name. The Spirit Lake Sioux made it official on their part, voting in a referendum to allow UND to continue using the name.

Formal support from both tribes was a key requirement in UND’s lawsuit settlement with the NCAA if UND was to retain the Sioux name.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights defended the department’s position, saying the depictions of Indians were often negative, inappropriate and insensitive, Michigan newspapers reported over the weekend.

A university spokesman said the Huron mascot is “historical memorabilia” and thus does not violate the NCAA’s ban on the use of Indian names or imagery considered “hostile or abusive” at NCAA championship events.

Maynard Harris, president of the Huron Restoration Alumni Chapter, wrote early this year to Kelley, urging continued use of the Fighting Sioux name and logo. He also urged UND alumni not to quit the fight.

This past weekend, he applauded what he considered a shifting official attitude at his alma mater.

“At least they are taking into consideration the whole history of Eastern Michigan University,” Harris said. “I can live with that.”


Chuck Haga is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald