I would like to start off by addressing the incident of red face this past weekend, April 11th. During a party off campus, reportedly 15-20 Eastern Michigan University students were dressed as stereotypical Native Americans, were drinking, and ended up getting into an altercation with a Native elder who happened to walk by.
Related: Eastern Michigan University Investigating “Red-Face” Party Which Led to Racial Slur Towards Elderly American Indian Man
During this incident, the Native elder involved had a full can of beer thrown at him (which hit him in the chest) and was told to “go back to the reservation.” There were also derogatory remarks made, and threats about “impregnating” Native women.
Occurrences like this not only make us feel disrespected and misrepresented, they make us feel mocked, ridiculed, and, most importantly, unsafe.
Incidents such as this reiterate the detrimental effects of Native themed mascots, and this particular instance shows how quickly those who claim to celebrate Native mascots will physically attack actual Native people in defense of their use of Native imagery.
Any sanction of these mascots and representations from the university fosters a mass acceptance and validation of these humiliating and harmful practices. Having the Huron mascot anywhere on campus leaves an opening for the acceptance of all harmful images of Natives, from the picture in McKenny of young girls dressing up in fake headdresses, to the new mural to hang in Porter, with the empty canoes of an extinct people floating down the river.
We have heard the arguments and excuses that these images are celebrating the past, and school spirit or history, especially where the old Huron logo is concerned. However, this particular history is premised on the genocide and erasure of Native Americans, and would not be tolerated in relation to any other minority group. To teach our community that we are here, that we are relevant, and that we deserve the same respect and humanity as any other here at Eastern, we must start by ridding our university of these harmful, hateful, and stereotypical images and representations.
These kinds of themed parties, and veiled or blatant threats of physical violence, including rape, directed towards Natives of our community are simply one connected piece in a long line that relates back to these kinds of dehumanizing practices. They make light of tragedies experienced by the Native community at epidemic proportions, and contribute to feelings of extreme discomfort and lack of safety for Native students on campus.
We all deserve to feel safe on this campus. Unfortunately, our realities frequently do not match this ideal.
The Native American Student Organization at Eastern Michigan University requests an immediate public disavowal of red face, cultural appropriation and misrepresentation from the university administration. It is our hope that this administration will work with us on this in order to achieve a more welcoming, educational, and respectful academic community, and help us in assuring that ignorance is never allowed to be an excuse by making sure that those involved are held accountable for their actions.
Michelle Lietz (Pasqua Yaqui Tribe) serves as the vice president of the Native American Student Organization at Eastern Michigan University. Ms. Lietz is a first-year graduate student who is majoring in literature.