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Behind closed doors

Members of a group called the Students of Color Coalition have thrown open the University of Michigan’s once-secret Michigamua headquarters, a wigwam-like room on the top floor of the student union where self-selected "elites" have been holding covert meetings since 1902. Eight protestors who have been occupying the 18-by-28-foot room since Feb. 6 (and letting more than 1,300 students see what has been kept hidden from outsiders for nearly a century) say they are offended by the way the club mocks Native American culture and desecrates artifacts considered sacred. They want the group disbanded – a request university administrators have been reluctant to honor. Does the prestigious Michigamua alumni list, which includes ex-prez Gerald Ford, have anything to do with the fact that university officials are balking at booting the club from its rent-free digs? Do the names of wealthy Michigamua alumni that appear on buildings across campus have administrators treading lightly?

Sure, Michigamua members have appropriated Native American culture as their own, including some precious head pieces, beaded work and peace pipes. Sure, the members refer to themselves as "braves" and "squaws," and the hazing (shown left) can get pretty weird. Sure, the group seems to have violated a 1989 agreement "to eliminate all references to Native American culture and pseudo-culture and extensions and parodies thereof ... for now and forever."

But really, what’s the harm? The answer to that question should be painfully obvious, but apparently it eludes the people running one of the most prestigious universities in America.

"The administration has not issued one statement that what exists in this room is wrong and racist," says Diego Bernal, a first-year graduate student of social work and one of the leaders of the sit-in.

For a virtual tour of the secret club and the goings on there, aim your browser at

Goose egg on his face

It wasn’t long ago that we were talking about Sen. Spence Abraham and his transparent efforts to use the Clean Michigan initiative as a high-profile attempt to greenwash his miserable environmental record.

Unfortunately for Abraham, image occasionally must meet reality, which is exactly what happened last week when the League of Conservation Voters released its environmental scorecard for 1999. Spence, it seems, didn’t fare too well – unless, of course, you’re looking at the report from the perspective of a big-time polluter. In that case, Micihgan’s junior senator was perfect. Otherwise, he was perfectly awful, earning a big ol’ zero out of 100 for consistently taking an anti-green stance when casting votes on important environmental issues last year.

In stark contrast to Abraham was the woman expected to be his Democratic opponent in the next Senate election. With Rep. Debbie Stabenow earning a score of 83, voters won’t have much difficulty deciding who’s the real green in this race.

As Bethany Renfer, program coordinator for the environmental group Clean Water Action, observed, "It’s as if a legislator like Sen. Abraham believes voters won’t find out what he does in D.C."

Living wage center stage

Representatives of labor, community and religious groups converged on the Coleman A. Young building Monday afternoon as a show of support for nearly 20 people – most of whom work at Cobo Hall – who say they are not being paid the legal minimum established when Detroit’s voters overwhelmingly passed the city’s living wage ordinance in 1998.

"We plan on ensuring that proper and effective enforcement of this ordinance is at the forefront of thinking within City Hall," promised Ed Scribner, Metropolitan AFL-CIO president.

Incinerator shutdown

A coalition of environmentalists and community groups seeking to close a medical waste incinerator at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit are on the verge of victory. The hospital, bowing to more than two years of pressure, has just announced the incinerator will finally be decommissioned. Although welcome news, any dancing in the street is being put on hold until the facility is closed for certain.

"I commend Henry Ford Hospital for their efforts to work with the community," said Wayne County Commissioner Jewel Ware. "However, we still await a phase-out plan. It is essential to move quickly to reduce air pollution in the community."

More by Curt Guyette

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