2005-09-03 / Editorials

Mascots; Big Battle Over Mighty Mac Michigan Politics By

George Weeks

It is good there's growing sensitivity across the nation to avoiding Indian nicknames and mascots and images disparaging of, and offensive to, the nation's first people.

But blanket indicting of use of Native American names by sports teams is folly, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association's banning of post-season play because of use of the Chippewa name by Central Michigan University (CMU) is political correctness run amuck.

Upon further review, that bad call should be reversed. CMU is second to none among Michigan institutions preserving and honoring the proud heritage of American Indians. It has a rich relationship with the Mt. Pleasant-based Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, which calls the NCAA action "not acceptable" and on Friday joined CMU President Michael Rao in appealing CMU's inclusion in the NCAA ruling.

The association–headquartered, ironically, in Indianapolis, Indiana–listed CMU among 18 schools with nicknames, etc. deemed "hostile or abusive."

Rich Morrison, CMU's veep for public relations and marketing, rightly calls the edict hostile and abusive to CMU.

"Chippewa" is not negative stereotyping by CMU any more than it is in Chippewa County. Five other Michigan counties are named to honor tribes (Huron, Menominee, Ogemaw, Otsego, Ottawa). Five honor Indian chiefs (Mecosta, Missaukee, Newaygo, Osceola, Sanilac).

According to the Michigan Manual, 19 counties have names derived from Indian languages--several of them related to rivers, including Manistee and Muskegon. Alpena is "a good partridge country;" Kalkaska is said to mean "burned over;" Leelanau "Land of Delight."

In April, CMU told the NCAA that it had "adopted the 'Chippewa' nickname in 1942 to reflect the rich Indian heritage of the mid-Michigan region;" continues to use the name "with respect and dignity;" and does not permit use of mascots "or other form of Native American symbols or images."

So what's NCAA's hangup? Rao probably nailed it when, after CMU was included early this month in the Egregious Eighteen, he suggested maybe the NCAA had not read CMU's April submission.

The "Saginaw Chips" tribe, as it is often called around the Isabella Reservation it occupies under the Treaties of 1855 and 1864, in 1988 adopted a resolution applauding the Michigan Department of Civil Rights for efforts "to end the use of Indian nicknames, mascots and logos by Michigan junior highs, high schools, colleges and universities (which) represent stereotypical and derogatory portrayals of Native Americans."

At the same time, the tribe said it had no objection to CMU's use of "Chippewa" that "is often used in a proud and honorable sense." In 2002, the tribe and university signed a formal commitment to "honor, dignity and respect."

CMU's Clarke Historical Library has Michigan's most complete Indian collection, including microfilmed federal records, writings of missionaries, printings in Ojibway (Chippewa), and volumes on treaty rights and children's literature written by or about Native Americans. (Disclosure: I'm an ex-member of Clarke's board of governors.)

As a mascot at football games of the Florida State University Seminoles, a white guy war-painted as Chief Osceola romps across the field on a spotted horse. No matter, according to the Washington Post, that the Seminoles never used war paint-the outgoing local chairman of the Seminole nation, according to the Palm Beach Post, said it is "proud of its representation on campus."

The NCAA reversed its ban on FSU and certainly should on CMU, which is a far straighter arrow on Indian heritage.

Big Battle over Mighty Mac

The Mackinac Bridge Authority is stunned, and Senator Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, says he may introduce legislation to reverse the decision of Director Gloria Jeff of the Michigan Department of Transportation to move some of the authority's powers to MDOT and the Department of Management and Budget.

Explaining Jeff's decision to move some functions such as bridge inspections and investing bridge revenues, MDOT spokesman Ben Kohrman, according to Gongwer News Service, said it was part of an effort to "make the business practices of the authority as transparent and accountable as possible."

Allen said: "The Granholm administration continues to demonstrate a disregard for the citizens of northern Michigan. Usurping the Mackinac Bridge Authority is just one more blow to northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, adding to the list of proposals to eliminate our vote and send our money downstate."

When I asked what he meant by that, Allen cited as an example administration decisions on funding in Cheboygan and other northern projects.

Bridge Authority Chairman Bill Gnodtke of Charlevoix objected to Jeff "dragging our employees through the mud." Republican Gnodtke noted comments in The St. Ignace News by ex-authority member Thomas Guastello, a former state legislator from Macomb County, that Jeff's "taking over the board's power completely eliminates the past practices of every other highway commission since the bridge was built, and it eliminates the positive contribution and independent views the Bridge Authority brings."

When I asked Friday – in view of comments to me by Allen and Gnodtke – which side Gov. Jennifer Granholm takes on the bridge dispute, her office stuck by the same weasel-word statement that press secretary Liz Boyd gave Tuesday to The St. Ignace News:

"The Mackinac Bridge is a Michigan treasure and, at the end of the day, we know everyone wants to do what's best for the bridge and the state of Michigan."

George Weeks is the political columnist for The Detroit News and is syndicated by Superior Features.

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