Justice Department hears Native American concerns at Eastern Michigan

YPSILANTI (AP) - Officials with the Justice Department have met with Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin and a Native American campus group to discuss a harassment case and continued concerns over the use of the school's Hurons logo.

Laura Sagolla, a tribal liaison for the Department of Justice, attended last Tuesday's meeting "to listen and ask questions about ways in which the university might respond" to concerns raised by the Native American Student Organization and the local tribal community, Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, told The Detroit News.

Native American elder Nathaniel Phillips told investigators that on April 11 Eastern Michigan students at an off-campus party were dressed in red face-paint and feathers. When Phillips told the students their dress was offensive, they reportedly threw a full beer can at him and told him to return to a reservation.

School spokesman Geoff Larcom said several members of the school's leadership, including Provost Kim Schatzel and officials from the university's public safety department, have met with Native American Student Organization members since the incident.

The school said in a statement April 17 that it "takes these matters very seriously and remains strongly committed to maintaining a respectful and inclusive and safe environment."

Mark Fancher, a staff attorney for racial justice for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said that at last Tuesday's meeting Martin refused to stop use of the logo following a request from the school's Native American Student Organization.

Martin returned the Hurons logo, which depicts a Native American face, to the marching band uniform in 2012 to promote what she said was the Ypsilanti university's history and pride. The logo is hidden under a front uniform flap. The Hurons logo earlier was used until 1991.

"It's a disgraceful part of the history," Fancher said. "It is causing harm to the students. It needs to go."

Eastern Michigan became the "Hurons" in 1929 and the "Eagles" in 1991. Larcom said the school changed its logo and mascot to avoid using Native American names and images in part based on concerns about the negative stereotypes reinforced by such logos and representations.

Published: Mon, Jun 08, 2015