Benton Harbor Parks Conservancy faces uncertain future

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — The Benton Harbor Parks and Recreation Conservancy met for an hour Tuesday and was unable to take any action.

This was because the conservancy was one person shy of a quorum.

The conservancy, which has been without a president since June 2016, met for its annual meeting for all members to elect new officials. But because there weren’t enough members present, the ones who made it to Tuesday’s meeting spent their time discussing how the nonprofit organization should operate in the future.

“If we don’t get members here, we don’t exist,” said John Egelhaaf of the conservancy’s executive committee. Egelhaaf led the board meeting due to the absence of a president and vice president. “That’s the harsh truth.”

The conservancy works as a nonprofit that manages Benton Harbor’s 13 parks.

This was the first time the conservancy had met since Nov. 22. The Jan. 17 meeting was canceled.

In November, members discussed the option of hiring an executive director – something the nonprofit has never had. On Tuesday, there was only talk off attendance and filling committees.

Committees various members volunteered for, which required no action from the conservancy, included the Adopt-A-Park Committee, Parks Management Committee and the Bylaws/Membership Committee.

“We need to recruit members and look into the bylaws on how membership changes,” Egelhaaf said, referring to the Bylaws/Membership Committee. “Finding a quorum is enough of a challenge as it is.”

Darwin Watson, Benton Harbor’s city manager and conservancy member, said they should look at who is still listed as a member and make the appropriate updates.

Among those listed as active members for the conservancy is Kysre Gondrezick, who plays basketball at the University of Michigan.

A few members asked whether they could decrease the number of members in order to ensure there would be a quorum at meetings.

Ironically, due to the nonprofit’s bylaws, the conservancy would need a quorum in order to do so.

Kinexus fallout

Egelhaaf said the conservancy has had a hard time finding an organization for bookkeeping purposes after Kinexus dropped out of doing so toward the end of 2016.

Egelhaaf said Cornerstone Alliance had a sympathetic ear and was able to help out in that capacity.

“We still don’t have the administrative aspect,” Egelhaaf said. “All of the agenda building, minute taking, the meeting prep is not happening. The executive committee is doing its best to fill that void.”

The conservancy still holds its meetings in a conference room inside Kinexus’ building in Benton Harbor.

Brian Saxton, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor and conservancy member, told members the conservancy is at a crossroad as a result.

“Kinexus is gone. They said they no longer wish to provide the administrative support to this organization,” Saxton explained Tuesday. “We lost all of the administrative functions and were given a box from Kinexus, full of files and maybe a CD or two. That’s what we have. There’s no infrastructure. We need to ask ourselves, does this organization have the resources to survive?”

That question, along with who will be voted the conservancy’s president, will likely be up for further discussion at the organization’s next meeting on May 16.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 29, 2017)


‘I Am The Greatest’ to incorporate familiar bicycle tour

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — The I Am The Greatest Sculpture Bicycle Tour returns this year after taking a one-year hiatus.

Anna Russo Sieber, founder and president of ARS Arts & Culture Center, said the event will kick off at noon Saturday at Cycle-Re-Cycle at 300 12th St. in Benton Harbor. The bike tour is meant to raise awareness about safe bicycling and public art.”We waited two years, but we have always talked about doing a second one,” Sieber said.

Sieber said the bike tour is being held in collaboration with ARS Gallery and Cycle-Re-Cycle, a nonprofit bicycle shop that diverts used and discarded bicycles from landfills and refurbishes them.

The bike tour will bring participants to each of the I Am The Greatest orange sculptures throughout Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. These sculptures can be found on walkways, sidewalks, roofs and in some parks.

Sieber said there are about 13 sculptures throughout the Twin Cities.

“We are inviting people to come and take part in this,” Sieber said. “They do similar things in Chicago and Detroit. We use Muhammad Ali as a role model. One of the biggest problems with low-income, at-risk youth is they don’t have a lot of role models.”

The bike tour will end at the ARS Gallery at 147 Fifth St. in Benton Harbor where hot cider, Jollay Orchards donuts and apples will be provided for participants.

When the bike tour was last held, Sieber said the turnout had about 35 people.

“We look forward to doing more of these rides,” she said. “We want to educate more people with the I Am The Greatest project. We’re hoping it will expand and grow from there.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 4, 2015)

Between the Shields: Overlapping jurisdictions aid police, trouble college students

The outside of Saginaw Chippewa Tribe's Police Station and Tribal Courthouse. (Photo by Anne Russ)

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s Police Station and Tribal Courthouse are located next door to one another. Tribal courts can only prosecute members of their own tribe and if it is a misdemeanor. (Photo by Anne Russ)

By Tony Wittkowski | Managing Editor | Central Michigan Life

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Spencer Harrison paid his $600 bail, only to be thrown into Isabella County Jail. He sat there for about 20 minutes until the clerk, confused as to why he was there, called for officers to let him out of the cell.

The same clerk had called Harrison earlier that day with the news that he had a warrant out for his arrest. Spencer had been waiting for this call, but not for that reason.

Three months prior to his 20 minutes behind bars, Harrison was pulled over for speeding and after a quick turn of events, marijuana residue was found in a film canister in his car. He was given an ultimatum – rat out his supplier or be arrested. The Central Michigan University police officer gave him two weeks, and told Harrison he would receive a call about the incident.

It never came. Instead, he got a different one.

There are five police departments that have jurisdiction over the Mount Pleasant area which is home to 19,364 CMU students who fall victim to the police-saturated community. Unlike Harrison, many students are unaware of the overlapping jurisdictions, let alone the number of police departments that reside within the city limits.

The process the police forces have created works well for them, but for the residents who they are sworn to protect, it causes confusion and distrust.

Defining jurisdiction

Each police department is defined by their own jurisdiction as to where they patrol and where they take complaints.

The Mount Pleasant Police Department fields crime within city limits, CMUPD holds authority over campus boundaries, the Michigan State Police and Isabella County Sheriff’s Department holds authority over the entire county and the Tribal Police Department has jurisdiction over the six-and-a-half townships that are made up of the tribe’s land.

However, there is no agency in Isabella County that is large enough to handle any problem without having outside help.

Earlier in February there was a 36-car accident on US-127, which required Mioduszewski to call in for support.

The Michigan State Police Department has a post on the eastern side of Mount Pleasant. They hold jurisdiction over the entire state. (Photo by Christiana Kurtz)

The Michigan State Police Department has a post on the eastern side of Mount Pleasant. They hold jurisdiction over the entire state. (Photo by Christiana Kurtz)

“There’s no way that just my deputies could have handled that many cars,” Mioduszewski said. “So, we had Tribal Police out there, we had state troopers, my folks, Shepherd PD, I even had Clare City Police come down to help us.”

When Mioduszewski had first taken office nearly a decade ago, things weren’t always so easy with the butting jurisdictions.

The sheriff’s department didn’t have authority on tribal lands until they were given permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Tribal Police through a quick ceremony known as deputization.

“All of our tribal officers are cross-deputized as sheriff deputies, along with the deputies and the city officers are deputized as tribal officers as well,” said Sgt. Harry Ambs of the Tribal Police Department. “That’s kind of a necessity with the overlapping jurisdictions. We all kind of work together and help each other out.”

The process itself is simple, Mioduszewski says, which requires officers to receive the oath of office by the county clerk administer – which any sheriff’s deputy has to do – by swearing to uphold Michigan and federal laws.

Once that’s completed, Mioduszewski has to sign it himself showing he is also giving authorization to be deputized. The deputization only lasts for the term of the Isabella County sheriff, which must be renewed every four years.

This cuts down on some of the gray area that comes with multiple jurisdictions and a lack of communication on developing crimes.

“We usually use the closest car concept,” Mioduszewski said. “If there’s something, a life-threatening type problem, a bad accident, or if it’s a domestic violence – we don’t care what agency you’re from, we want to get a police officer there.”

The overlap between the different jurisdictions and the tribe has been one of the main focal points for both the city and the reservation.

There are five police departments who have jurisdictions in Mount Pleasant city limits. CMU is the maroon encompassed by MPPD blue. (Graphic by Tony Wittkowski)

There are five police departments who have jurisdictions in Mount Pleasant city limits. (Graphic by Tony Wittkowski)

The cross-deputization has helped for emergencies in Mount Pleasant, which is the largest city in the county.

“We all have a mutual aid agreement,” said MPPD Public Information Officer Jeff Thompson, “which means that if the sheriff’s department is unable to get to a high-priority call in a certain area, but we can or CMU can or the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe can, then we’ll take the initial response and then let the responding agency get there and deal with the situation.”

However, not all occasions that involve multiple police agencies include emergencies.

“There are occasions where the tribe has big events, or large events going on where they need some additional law enforcement assistance and any time they ask we provide officers for that,” said CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley. “They’ve had a couple of fairly significant incidents on tribal lands over the last few years and certainly we’ve participated in the investigation and assisting them in some of those major events.”

During CMU’s football games Yeagley said they invite all of the agencies to assist them because of the scale of the event. The tribe assigns anywhere from two to six officers to CMUPD who utilize their officers to help keep things in order and keep the peace during home football games.

Each county in the state is going to have a sheriff’s department along with multiple city, village and township departments, Thompson said. To him, Mount Pleasant isn’t that rare of an occurrence because more towns have reservations and colleges, as well.

While the gray area can seem larger on some days more than others, Thompson said any problems are welcomed for an increase in police presence.

“We all have a very professional, very friendly relationship which comes from understanding that we’re all doing the same job,” Thompson said. “These are officers who are going to be there to back us up and save our lives if we need it. And of course there are going to be conflicts between the administrative staffs, in regards to jurisdiction, budgeting issues, coverage. But overall that’s on a professional level.”

A need for reform

A peaceful agreement among the police departments was not always apparent in Mount Pleasant.

Though there are five different forces that now coincide with one another that at one time did not see eye-to-eye.

Both Mioduszewski and Yeagley have seen times when the balance between local and tribal police have stepped on “somebody else’s toes.”

“Cross-deputization is a great thing to have when there is an emergency,” Yeagley said. “But when a call comes in and an officer decides to respond outside of their jurisdiction when it is not life or death, it can cause a rift between departments.”

Mioduszewski has come across instances where the police departments have overstepped their boundaries. However, that is in large part because it is hard to pinpoint the nationality of residents.

Before there was even an agreement, the tribal reservation lacked any form of a police force.

Marcella Hadden, public relations manager for the tribe, grew up on the reservations in the 1970s and remembered a time when there was no active police force to help enforce and maintain security.

“I remember someone breaking into the house, breaking a window and they were trying to reach in and grab something,” Hadden said. “My dad didn’t want to make any waves because he had to live there.”

The lack of police force and crime eventually caused Hadden to leave the reservation along with others.

Over the years, the reservation developed and establishment a small tribal court and hired two officers – a police chief and deputy. Despite this, others felt there was still a feeling of division between the tribe and the local city officials including the city police.

Colleen Green, director of Native American Programs at CMU, grew up in Remus until she became a student at CMU. There, Green became president of the North American Student Indigenous Organization.

To her knowledge, the city and tribal police have not always been on the best of terms. However, the community has done their best to patch up relations among one another.

“Both communities haven’t seen eye-to-eye in the past. There is kind of a riff between tribal and city,” Green said. “In the last five years they have been trying to heal both communities from what has been done in the past.”

Through an establishment of a round table, which focused on educating the community, they were able to survey tribal members asking about their personal experience within the Mount Pleasant community.

Since then the developments have allowed for significant improvements within tribal and city communication between former mayors and tribal officials.

However, Green does feel that to further increase acceptance among each other and to improve working relations there must be an improvement in education, training and understanding of each culture as a whole.

A growing tribe

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the five police agencies that reside in the city is the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police Department.

The city of Mount Pleasant is divided in half between tribal land and city or state. North of High Street – where downtown Mount Pleasant lies – marks the beginning of tribal land.

According to Mioduszewski, the tribe that lives in Mount Pleasant is the largest of the state. In other areas, there tend to be smaller pockets that include Native Americans, whereas in Isabella, they’re a bit more prevalent throughout the entire city.

But their presence in the community hasn’t always been met with friendliness. Colleen Green has felt it firsthand.

“If I walk into a store with t-shirt and jeans (on), people assume I don’t have a job,” she said. “They don’t realize I have two masters and I’m working on a PhD. I let them go with it.”

The Mount Pleasant Police Department sits on the corner of High and Mission Streets. (Photo by Christiana Kurtz)

The Mount Pleasant Police Department sits on the corner of High and Mission Streets. (Photo by Christiana Kurtz)

The racial gap is getting smaller every year, though, and the community is changing to become more accepting.

The tribal police system has been changing and evolving over the years, as well.

Hadden has lived in the area since the 1970s, and has seen the changes firsthand. The tribe started without any police at all, then gained a police chief, his deputy and a small tribal court. Today, the tribal police consists of 16 road officers, four sergeants, two detectives and a lieutenant who is also interim captain, according to Ambes of Tribal PD.

The expansion started happening in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Chief Ralph Somik and Officer Joe Quikom were the two tribal officers that were at the forefront of the changes. Their budget was small, and Yeagley saw it fitting to offer help, in exchange for theirs when needed.

The bond between Yeagley and Quikom is similar to the relationship both agencies have with each other. The forces help each other out, and working together benefits both sides.

Now that all police officers are cross-deputized, any officer can answer a call.

If the tribal police arrests a student who is non-native, which happens often to students traveling back from Midland or at the Soaring Eagle Casino, the student is transported to the county jail where they take over the case.

A permanent distrust

Weeks turned into months when Harrison nervously awaited a call from CMUPD, when he finally received one, it was from the Isabella County Sheriff’s Department saying they had a warrant out for his arrest.

Harrison, who was confused as to how his case had moved from the campus to the county’s hands, gathered up the $600 needed to pay his bond. He was fingerprinted, had his mug shot taken and lodged in the county jail.

“Nobody wanted to hear my story,” Harrison said. “They just wanted to hurry up the process and get to the next convict.”

Harrison’s story is just one example of the experiences students have living within the boundaries of five police agencies. Since the incident, Harrison has transferred to Wayne State University – for reasons related to his major and not the arrest. Near Wayne State’s campus, the police presence is more prevalent than at CMU’s, however, he feels much safer around them.

After 40 hours of community service and a class on narcotics, Harrison has faced a growing problem.

Although the police agencies work together on a regular basis, it’s mistakes and confusion like what happened to Harrison that can cause real damage. After this experience, he is now stricken with anxiety.

“Whenever I see police on the road, or when I get pulled over, the anxiety comes back and bites me in the ass all because of this situation.”

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 3, 2014. Words by Chelsea Hohn, Tony Wittkowski and Nick Modglin. Photos by Christiana Kurtz and Anne Russ)

Beyond the Badges: Police struggle with differences in closed-door meetings

Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski, right, and Central Michigan University Police Chief Bill Yeagley meet with reporters to discuss the abduction of a female CMU student Jan. 16, 2013. The two officers week on a monthly basis with other police officers to coordinate efforts. (MLive file photo)

Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski, right, and Central Michigan University Police Chief Bill Yeagley meet with reporters to discuss the abduction of a female CMU student Jan. 16, 2013. The two officers week on a biweekly basis with other police officers to coordinate efforts. (MLive file photo)

By Tony Wittkowski | Managing Editor | Central Michigan Life

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — One step the local police departments have done to promote inclusion and more transparency among officers is a biweekly meeting held at a neutral site.

The meetings host the two highest-ranking officials of each department every other Monday. Each leader in the department is accompanied by their second in command.

A - State Police BadgeThe officials include the state police commander and his assistant, Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski and his undersheriff, Central Michigan University Police Chief Bill Yeagley and Capt. Fred Harris, the director and captain of the Mount Pleasant Police Department and Capt. Dave Crockett and Lt. Kelly Babcock of Tribal Police.

“If there are any small issues or problems we can head them off before they grow into major problems,” Mioduszewski said. “We’ve got people not liking each other, so we hold these to clear the air.”

The meetings were first started to cutback on some of the miscommunication and disagreement between the city and tribal police. Over time the meetings expanded to include campus, state and county police as the jurisdictions became more defined.B - Sheriff's Badge

The two-and-a-half hour meetings cover a range of topics from subtle arguments to new enforcements being enacted. One of the projects the police departments are working on is a new radio system countywide.

“We are always willing to invite others in as needed depending on topics,” Yeagley said. “Our last meeting we invited some folks in from some different radio companies, because we’re examining the radio frequencies and technology we currently have.”

Bringing in the ‘five families’

Marty Trombly came in as the new chief of police for MPPD in the ‘80s and saw the wall that had been put up between the two badges.

The departments were very independent, territorial and proud, Yeagley said, to the point where they didn’t work together.

C - CMU Police Badge“It was one of the things he recognized early on and he met with each of the leaders of the other agencies and had some pretty brutal meetings,” Yeagley said. “We really owe it to each other and to the community to work together. Once we got to that point then it actually became we want to help, we want your help, we want your expertise, we want to share our expertise and it’s just really grown since that point.”

One of the major roadblocks the local agencies have faced is the understanding of how much funding and resources have been decreasing over the last 15 years.

To be effective the “brothers in blue” have to depend on one another and work together, Yeagley said.

D - MP BadgeAs an example, each department has their own detective bureau to actively solve recurring problems within the community. Years ago the detective bureaus did not meet regularly, did not share information regularly or strategize on how to address different crime patterns together.

Today, all detectives from the agencies meet monthly at a minimum.

“If there’s a series of incidents or serious crimes occurring, the first thing that happens is all of the local, all the detectives from the local police agencies get together and share information,” Yeagley said. “It’s come a long way.”

Stepping on toes

At a minimum the five heads of the department meet twice a month.

It is a time that was created to share information and to talk about some of the highlights within the organizations.

However, if there’s an incident or continuous difficulty among officers, they meet more frequently.

“We also deal with issues and problems,” Yeagley said. “It’s a lot like a family. If you’ve got three brothers and two sisters there’s an occasion that you irritate one another. There’s an occasion that you might jump out of bed in the morning and accidentally step on somebody else’s toe.”

E - Tribe PD badgeThe meetings serve as a forum for addressing those issues, it is used to clearly and bluntly get those disagreements out on the table and resolve them.

Since the departments are talking about moving to a different form of radio, the cost of it is a bit out of reach for some of the departments, Mioduszewski said. The last few meetings have been geared to finding a medium in police radios, which is affordable for everyone.

“It’d be very easy for one agency just to say, ‘here’s the technology that we think is good for us and we’re gonna go this way’ and not even tell anyone else,” Yeagley said, “But the actual use of that technology could really inhibit the communication between that agency and everyone else.”

Without these meetings the collaboration doesn’t happen as well, causing a decrease in efficiencies and black eye to the relationship.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 3, 2014)

More than just a name: A look into the Chippewa mascot

Joe Loomis sheers on the Central Michigan football team during CMU's homecoming game against the Toledo Rockets on Nov. 11, 2013 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. (Sammy Madar | Photographer)

Joe Loomis cheers on the Central Michigan football team during CMU’s homecoming game against the Toledo Rockets on Nov. 11, 2013 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. (Sammy Madar | Photographer)

By Tony Wittkowski | Managing Editor | Central Michigan Life

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Joe Loomis has made it a point to attend every home football game at Central Michigan University since his freshman year.

In the fourth game of 2013 when the Chippewas faced the Toledo Rockets, CMU donned their throwback jerseys, which were mustard yellow with maroon stripes on the shoulder pads. On the center of each jersey, where the player’s number was normally located, was a giant “C.”

The Petoskey junior had gotten wind of the look of the one-time-only jerseys after seeing some of the prototypes posted on Facebook by CMU Athletics.

“I remember last year the team wore black jerseys when they played (Michigan) State,” Loomis said. “For that game Austin and I dressed in black from head to toe. A few others did the same, but we were the only ones dressed that way in front.”

In the days leading up to the Mid-American Conference showdown, Loomis and his roommates – Holland senior Nathan Miles and Petoskey junior Austin Peters ­– were in Meijer when they came across some body paint.

This was the beginning of a series of events that would reignite the decades-long debate about cultural symbols and meaning, eventually bringing in the students, the university and the local tribe.

The Chippewa name has been under focus for its use as a mascot by the Native American community since the 1970s. However, it has become more heated with the new discussion on whether the Washington Redskins mascot should be changed.

Frank Coultier was notified via text message of the photo that ran front page of Central Michigan Life before entering his north office the Monday after the Rockets defeated the Chippewas, 38-17.

The photo showcased Loomis, alongside his roommates, shouting from the student section while shirtless and covered in a goldish-yellow paint with a maroon “C” in the center of his chest.

However, what caught Coultier’s interest were the streaks of paint on Loomis’ cheeks. The problem with the three streaks on Loomis’ face was how they close they resembled war paint.

“To be honest, I had seen the (newspaper) earlier in the morning but had thought nothing of it,” said Coultier, director of public relations for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. “A friend of mine texted me about it and soon after I received a few calls from (tribe) members as well.”

Coultier reached out to university officials until he got a hold of Sherry Knight, the associate vice president of university communications, who had Loomis brought in for a discussion on student conduct.

“They were on that like nothing,” said Marcella Hadden, manager of Tribal Operations. “One call from the tribe was all it took. Receptive and sensitive.”

Two days later, a mass email was sent out to students on behalf of University President George Ross, which gave a friendly reminder to all students and faculty about being respectful at games and of other cultures.

There was no mention of face paint or a depiction of any specific culture.

‘Not our intention to offend’

In the fall of 2003, a student donned a homemade mock costume of Native American regalia. According to records found at the Clarke Historical Library, he wore his gear to football games on several occasions and “caused a stir.”

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe went on to purchase ads in CM Life every week, pushing one common message on the subject. One of the ads read, “I am a mother, I am a nurse, I am not your mascot.”

“The tribe did take a lot of action after the event,” said Bryan Whitledge, a reference assistant at the Clarke Historical Library. “His Indian regalia was very cheesy and very poorly crafted. It was penne noodles strung on a string to make a breastplate to look like bones. He had feathers which were kind of cheap yellow and maroon feathers, and then fake war paint.”

Prior to the face paint incident at the Toledo football game, the latest incident took place not at a stadium, but at a campus restaurant in 2007.

Colleen Green, director of Native American programs at CMU, heard of a student whose attire was offensive to Native Americans, and sent an aide down to the cafeteria to see what was going on.

“We had an incident in one of the dining commons,” Green said. “We had a student go in there and take a photo and send it to me. It had a young man in a headdress serving food.”

While not every occurrence was documented, some instances were remembered more than others.

Charmaine Shawana is the current tribal historic preservation officer for the tribe. She also served as a tribal council member off and on for the last decade and has been at the heart of the name controversy since she first enrolled at CMU in 1973.

While on campus, Shawana and a handful of other Native American students led small protests near the library and the football stadium.

“We were the real Indians of CMU (in 1973), and we were a bit radical,” Shawana said. “Of course, we never liked the name Chippewa. There used to be a white guy dressed up like an Indian on the field at games.”

This was at a time when the basement of the Bovee University Center used to house a restaurant called “The Reservation.”

Tribal historic preservation officer Charmaine Shawana and Public Relations Manager Marcella Hadden look through the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial School exhibit at the Ziibiwing Center on March 18, 2014. (Photo by Holly Mahaffey/The Morning Sun)

Tribal historic preservation officer Charmaine Shawana and Public Relations Manager Marcella Hadden look through the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial School exhibit at the Ziibiwing Center on March 18, 2014. (Photo by Holly Mahaffey/The Morning Sun)

Throughout the years, Shawana and a few close-knit friends openly opposed the name Chippewa because it was not even the name of their tribe.

Like others before her, Shawana does not know where or when the name Chippewa came into play, but the members from this region are actually called the Anishinabe. This is translated to “the first man lowered down from above.”

When CMU changed their football helmets by taking away the spear and arrow and began to integrate what is known as the “Action C,” Shawana still saw them as Chippewas.

Even though the name is not correct, it’s the “act of savagery” that comes with all Native American mascots that sets Shawana off.

“There have always been students who dressed their face up in war paint and acted ridiculous,” Shawana said. “Football games are just big drunk parties. It’s insulting and it’s racist. We are not mascots, we are a people.”

Around the same time Shawana was protesting the name, current CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley was suiting up on the field at left defensive end from 1974-76.

However, during that time Yeagley witnessed little to no interaction between the tribe and university.

Over the years, the meaning of the word Chippewa has changed for Yeagley. In the beginning it was a sign of passion and pride. Now it has taken many forms when he looks back on his playing days under Defensive Coordinator Herb Deromdi.

“I do recall there were some people in regalia who represented Native Americans at games,” Yeagley said, “but to be honest I didn’t notice too much because I was more focused on the games.”

One of the things Yeagley thinks back to are the stickers that were awarded to individuals who made big plays.

A small hatchet was put on the individual’s helmet, similar to the buckeye stickers Ohio State players attach to their helmets in order to showcase their accomplishments on the field.

“Part of what we were striving for was to cover that helmet in hatchets ­– to show that the individual had a lot of outstanding plays,” Yeagley said. “It was not our intention to offend folks, I wasn’t sure why it would be offensive back then.”

Now students can see Yeagley back at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, but on patrol for damage control during games.

Since he first accepted the job as police chief at CMU, Yeagley has only seen or heard of a handful of isolated incidents involving offensive apparel being worn by students. He sees no widespread depictions of Native Americans anymore.

“Thirty-five years ago, if Native Americans were upset about the name, I was not aware of it,” he said. “There has been a big push for activism over the last two decades.”

The education process

At the beginning of every school year, every incoming freshman is ushered into a hall and seated for approximately four hours.

Topics of discussion include sexual assault, depression and alcohol abuse.

During that time they also go through several vignettes ­– brief, first-hand accounts of discrimination – from tribal members on appropriate behavior at games.

“It is derogatory, but not a lot of the majority understands that concept,” Green said. “We have more than 200 Native American students on campus and if they are going out to a sporting event they are not going to want to see someone dress up in a costume trying to act like them.”

There is a vignette on the Chippewa nickname on how to respect the tribe and the culture that comes with Mount Pleasant. CMU also allows a few of the tribe’s public relations representatives to give a 15-minute discussion on what it means to be native and what the tribe has to offer as well as a little bit of the history.

Four Central Michigan football players wear the uniforms that would be worn in the Toledo Rockets game. The shoulder pads were what prompted Joe Loomis to wear face paint.

Four Central Michigan football players wear the uniforms that would be worn in the Toledo Rockets game. The shoulder pads were what prompted Joe Loomis to wear face paint.

One of the things explained during those meetings is the deeper meaning behind a headdress.

Part of the tribe’s logo is the headdress, which is made of eagle feathers that are considered extremely sacred. Each tribe goes through a process in attaining eagle feathers because they are endangered. The feathers are of high importance because during a ceremony, if a dancer were to drop an eagle’s feather, it represents a fallen warrior.

This has been the initial step for connecting students to their local tribe for the last seven years.

“I think it’s evolving,” Hadden said. “As the university and the tribe become closer and the relationship strengthens, the more culturally sensitive they are. We have a great partnership with them.”

Athletic Director Dave Heeke said he has worked closely with the tribe in doing a number of things with the student athletes. According to Heeke, CMU doesn’t have a mascot.

“It is not our mascot. It is not a nickname,” he said. “It’s a name that we share, proudly, with the Chippewa Indian Tribe, something that’s been here for a number of years.”

Those who have defended the name have said the university helps the tribe by working with them in supporting their efforts to spread their culture, Shawana said.

However that comes at a cost.

“The bad part of it is, they represent all Indian people,” she said. “So you would have to get the approval of all Indian people to say that’s OK, and I doubt if that’s ever going to happen.”

Even though CMU has taken every step short of changing the name, Shawana believes more can be done. The spear may be gone, but the sentiment is still there.

“I hope and pray one day my kids and grandkids can be able to go to a school where there isn’t a mascot named the Chippewas,” Shawana said. “In the age of political correctness, there is no need for that name.”

Accidentally offensive

As the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked away and CMU’s offense turned the ball over for the fourth time that day, Loomis had already left the stadium.

The paint on both his face and chest had started to peel, but it would still be another 36 hours before he found out what he had mistakenly done.

“I wasn’t trying to look like a Native American,” Loomis said. “I put the marks on my face to match the stripes on the shoulder pads of the players.”

CMU’s line coach Lawrence “Doc” Sweeney, who had a major role in changing the university’s mascot to Chippewas in 1941, had wanted to see more showmanship and pageantry at games. Indirectly, this was a byproduct of a football coach who wanted more fan support.

Like other students who study at CMU, Loomis had gone to those freshman orientations where members of the tribe’s public relations spoke on the name and the negative connotation it can bring. Looking back, Loomis said he didn’t think much of it because he has always been sensitive to other races and cultures.

However, after the misunderstanding of his face paint, Loomis approaches the game of football differently.

“I haven’t been to a game since,” he said. “I don’t really have a reason, I just watch when it’s on TV or not at all.”

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 26, 2014)

The Mascot Mess: A history of CMU’s controversial mascot

Central Michigan lines up against Western Michigan prior to a snap in their game on Nov. 11, 2012. (Courtesy photo by the Western Herald)

Central Michigan lines up against Western Michigan prior to a snap in their game on Nov. 11, 2012. (Courtesy photo by the Western Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | Managing Editor | Central Michigan Life

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — As a mascot, the Chippewa name has gone through the Central Michigan University student body, the NCAA and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal council members.

The origin of the name was presented for a variety of reasons, with one of the main intentions being an increase in showmanship and pageantry from the student body.

However, members of the tribe are against the use of their name and image as a mascot because it reflects a negative meaning toward their culture and heritage.

In the beginning, the Central Michigan Teaching School was without a mascot in the early 1920s.

The school began a two-year search for a name while only playing six games a year in football.

Then in 1926 in the archives of the student newspaper, Central Normal Life, there was a suggestion for Central to as adopt the name Dragons.

“Whenever they played against Alma there was a Dragon that came out and breathed fire,” said Bryan Whitledge, reference assistant at the Clarke Historical Library. “Seemed to be an interesting thing. But it only sticks for a year.”

In 1927, Central went with the name Bearcats.

A group of fans proposed the nickname Wildcats, because CMU’s mascot, “should be a brave-fighting mascot that once roamed the woods of Michigan.” However, some felt Wildcats was too close to Wolverine, a name the University of Michigan had made their own, so Bearcats was used instead and would stay for another 14 years.

When the teaching school evolved into a college, it allowed for the name to change once again on May 28, 1941.

According to a former Central Michigan Life article, there was an investigation of campus opinion and approval of a name change for Central Michigan college athletic teams.

The historical helmet designs for CMU from 1960 to 2014. (*1) Worn during the 2013 home game versus Michigan State. (*2) Worn during the 2013 home game versus Toledo. (Courtesy of CMU Athletics)

The historical helmet designs for CMU from 1960 to 2014. (Courtesy of CMU Athletics)

CMU’s line coach, Lawrence “Doc” Sweeney, wanted a new name for the team that would bring about more “showmanship and pageantry.” The change of name was brought to the governing board for students – known today as the Student Government Association.

“Coach Sweeney cited many reasons, and there were few objections,” Whitledge said. “Some of the reasons were that the Bearcat means nothing. The name offers nothing in the way of background for showmanship or pageantry.”

Sweeney had made the argument that the name Chippewa is geographically correct, since at one time the Chippewa Indian Tribes were scattered around this particular area.

For years the U.S. government school brought thousands of Native Americans into the territory, Sweeney said. However, the U.S. government schools he was referring to were the boarding schools, including the one just north of town.

This was the first argument against the name change when it was first proposed, because those schools took Native American children from their families and assimilated them to a different culture.

In the 1940s, Chippewa was the name of the university’s yearbook and the river that flows through town.

“He said, ‘it opens up unlimited opportunities for pageantry and showmanship for the band as well as athletic teams. The Indian chief would be an outstanding marker for athletic uniforms,’” Whitledge said. “‘The Indian pow wow could replace a pep meeting.’”

Sweeney wanted Native American ceremonies to be used on many occasions, school flags and pennants could be made much more attractive.

It was an idea of creating a Native American as a mascot.

Other universities take the hint

At the time CMU was considering a name change, other schools did as well ­– but for different reasons.

In the 1970s there was a national movement about the use of native imagery for sports teams, which included Stanford University.

At Stanford, the mascot was a Native American in the 1930s called the Big Red, and then in 1972 the symbol was dropped and they changed their name to the Cardinals. Now they are known as The Cardinal, where their mascot is a tree with bulbous eyes at football games.

“You saw a lot of universities using similar aggressive Native American symbols for their mascots,” Whitledge said. “Then, just like that, there was this shift toward being politically correct.”

The University of Miami (Ohio) made the transition from the Redskins to the Redhawks, becoming the first MAC school to change their mascot in more than 30 years.

Eastern Michigan University used to be the Hurons, which they picked in 1929, named after a local tribe in the thumb of the state.

In 1988, the university issued a report at Eastern about the negative connotations that come with the use of it. The name Eagles was officially adopted in 1991.

The logo for the Eastern Michigan football team from 1976-1990, prior to its mascot name change to the Eagles. (Courtesy of The Eastern Echo)

The logo for Eastern Michigan from 1976-1990, prior to its mascot name change to the Eagles. (Courtesy of The Eastern Echo)

Around the same time this was taking place at Eastern, CMU took another look at the name that had been in place for more than 40 years.

In 1989, there was a moratorium – a suspension of activity – about the use of native imagery for the Chippewa mascot.

“In that time the administration issued a directive prohibiting all Indian-themed imagery being used from athletic teams,” Whitledge said. “So the spear and the Indian head, which had been used for the previous 40 to 50 years were now no longer allowed.”

After banning the spear on the helmet, CMU also investigated the use of the name Chippewas for a three-year period beginning in 1989. However, the administration that instituted this folded, and a new university president was brought in, leaving the issue of the nickname unanswered.

In 2005, the NCAA put 18 universities on a list of schools that used hostile or abusive mascots and imagery.

This list included the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, Illinois Fighting Illini, Florida State Seminoles, Utah Utes as well as CMU.

Rob Wyman, director of athletic communications, said when the list was put together all it did was clump together the schools with Native American nicknames.

“The NCAA designated all those for review. I believe it was before Dave (Heeke) came here through Rich Morrison and through president Mike Rowe,” Wyman said. “They worked hand-in-hand with the tribe to talk to the NCAA and present our case, and I believe we were one of the first, if not the first school granted removal from that list.”

Those put on the list were not selected for having done something improper, but made to stymie the outcry that had picked up over the last decade.

Tribal leaders – including their chief – and the leadership of the university travelled together to the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to argue why it should remain the way it is.

“Our university was improperly highlighted by the NCAA,” said Dave Heeke, CMU’s athletic director. “We were granted as one of the relationships that could continue and that would not be sanctioned by the NCAA in any way.”

The mascot for Florida State introduces the team by riding to midfield with a burning spear. (Photo by Christopher Holder).

The mascot for Florida State introduces the team by riding to midfield with a burning spear. (Photo by Christopher Holder).

This was important because the NCAA governs any postseason play outside of football, which includes March Madness. No logos or mascots could be present during the games. If a university was on this list they could also not host postseason events.

“Here at CMU, that would mean a MAC tournament game,” Whitledge said. “At some place like Florida State or Illinois that was a really big deal. These type of events bring in tons of money to the university, and is a reason to recruit kids to their school.”

While CMU was granted an exception by the NCAA, Florida State and Utah received similar exceptions. Calls made to Florida State and Utah athletic departments were not returned.

The other 15 either changed their mascots or convinced the NCAA to take them off the list.

Even though Heeke was not athletic director at the time, he had been watching the situation unfold. Now he intends to make sure CMU is not known for having a hostile mascot.

“It is not taken lightly in any way,” Heeke said. “I emphasize it’s NOT a mascot. It is incorrectly used by the media and others when they refer to it as that way. We don’t have a mascot at Central Michigan University.”

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 26, 2014)

CMU student found dead in off-campus apartment

By Tony Wittkowski | Managing Editor | Central Michigan Life

A Central Michigan University student was found dead Tuesday afternoon in his apartment in Jamestown Apartments.

Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski said the ICSD received a call around 1:30 p.m. about a male who was found dead in an off-campus apartment, where he was confirmed to be a CMU student.

“It was not a homicide,” Mioduszewski said. “Unless the autopsy shows something else, it was nothing criminal.”

Mioduszewski was unaware of whether or not the parents of the student had been notified of his death, so the name of the student and apartment complex he was discovered in were not released.

The age of the student could not be confirmed, however, Mioduszewski said he heard the deceased was a senior.

CMU officials were reached for comment, but did not know any additional information surrounding the student’s death.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 25, 2014)