The ugly return of EMU’s racist mascot, injuries on the set of A Prairie Home Companion, and naming the band Farewell Phoenix… on episode 15 of the Saturday Six Pack


This show came together kind of naturally. It all started a few weeks back, when I got an email from local musician J.T. Garfield. He’d wanted to let me know about an incident involving a friend of his, Nathan Phillips, a local Native American man. Phillips, according to Garfield, had just stopped by his house and recounted a story of having been taunted by drunken Eastern Michigan University students in “redface,” who, calling themselves “Hurons,” had told him to “go back to the fucking reservation.” Garfield asked that I consider writing something about the encounter, and offered to assist me in tracking down Phillips. Before Garfield and I could find Phillips, and determine where the confrontation took place, though, news of the altercation had already made it to Channel 7 in Detroit, and a protest was being planned for the EMU campus. So there really wasn’t a pressing need for me to make people aware of the allegations. With that said, though, it seemed as though Phillips should have more than the 20 seconds he got on Channel 7 to tell his story, so Garfield and I set out to find him and ask him to come on the radio show. And, once we’d tracked him down, the other pieces just started falling into place.

[If you missed the live broadcast, you can now hear the episode in its entirety on both iTunes and Soundcloud. Or, if you want, you can just scroll down to end of this post, where you’ll find it embedded.]

In addition to Phillips, Garfield said he’d come on the show with his new, as-yet-to-be-named band, and representatives from the Native American Student Organization (NASO) at EMU agreed to come on as well, and tell us about their meetings with University administrators in the wake of the incident noted above… Here’s Nathan, who some of you might recognize as the Native American man in the Skrillex video for the song Make It Bun Dem. [He mentioned this fact to me kind of out of the blue right before our interview began.]

Nathan Phillips

[note: The above photo of Nathan was taken as part of our Six Pack Portrait Project by Ypsilanti photographer Chris Stranad. It was taken just after my interview with Nathan.]

If you’re unfamiliar with Nathan’s story, I’d encourage you to listen to him tell it… Also of interest is our discussion about Eastern Michigan University’s decision a few years ago to reintroduce their Native American mascot, the “Huron,” after having given it up over 20 years ago in favor of the less offensive “Eagle.” According to Nathan, and the students from EMU’s Native American Student Organization (NASO) who followed him on the show, the decision to bring back the Huron, whose face is now hidden beneath a secret flap on the University’s new band uniforms, was made for financial reasons. Rumor has it that an alumus of the University demanded that it be brought back, and refused to make a donation until such time that it had. Nathan, I think, summed it up pretty nicely when he said, “Money’s more important than a person’s dignity.” [The hidden Huron can be seen to the right.]

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 8.47.36 PMWhen we wrapped up with Nathan, we were joined by Michelle Lietz and Chris Sutton, of EMU’s Native American Student Organization. According to them, they’d met with University President Susan Martin two years ago, asking that she stop the reintroduction of the Huron logo, and warning what might happen if it came back, and yet another generation of EMU students began identifying with the nonexistent tribe. [Huron, according to Sutton and Lietz, if I recall our conversation correctly, means something like “bristly pig” in French, and was a name put on the Wyandot people. So, even if you buy the University’s argument that the mascot honors the Native Americans of this area, it does so with an insulting name that reflects a deep misunderstanding of who these men and women actually were.]

According to Lietz and Sutton [pictured below], President Martin was “very dismissive” when they spoke last week. She was initially interested in talking about how they could better educate the EMU community about Native American issues, they said, but then shut down when they brought up the possibility of getting rid of the Huron logo once and for all. According to Sutton, they told Martin, “We can’t educate the public until the logo is removed.” Until it’s gone, he he told her, people will continue to think that it’s OK. Michelle and Lietz went on to say that what happened to Nathan, was predictable, given the reintroduction of the offensive logo… and they were not surprised to hear that white EMU students were dressing up in “redface.”



My favorite part of the interview was toward the end when we started conspiring… thinking of ways to get the Huron logos off the band uniforms in a way that brings positive attention to their cause and helps them attract allies. We discussed appealing to individual members of the EMU marching band to remove the logos themselves, as some fans of the Cleveland Indians began doing last year as part of a coordinated “De-Chiefing” campaign. And, perhaps more impactful from a news coverage perspective, we discussed the possibility of calling together a small army of volunteers armed with stitch rippers to sit outside of President Martin’s office, and football games if necessary, offering to remove the logos from the band uniforms. [One of the reasons we’ve heard that the University administrators say they can’t get rid of the reintroduced logo is that it would cost too much money to have new band uniforms made. Well, if that’s the truth, why not remove the objection by publicly offering to remove the stitching?]

And, then, at about the 35-minute mark, we welcomed in legendary Detroit rock photographer Doug Coombe. We talked about how he, as a young record store employee, got his start shooting shows around Ann Arbor, and how it’s always been a struggle to balance the business side of photography with his desire to help creative people doing interesting things by documenting their activities. Coombe recounted some of his more memorable experiences, from having the Jesus Lizard’s David Yow swing a cinder block in his face, to the time he sustained an injury during a taping of A Prairie Home Companion that required surgery. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have spent less time talking about my memories of David Yow’s balls, but, otherwise, I think it was a pretty solid outing. Here Doug is talking with me about how awesome it would be to get Lee Osler on the back of a flatbed truck, rolling around Ypsilanti playing Back to Ypsilanti… Or, on second thought, maybe this is Doug telling us about the time he was handcuffed and thrown into the back of a Ypsi PD squad car.


And, toward the end of the show, J.T. Garfield and Martha J. Schmitt stopped by to play some songs, take calls from listeners, and publicly announce a series of Sunday evening porch shows on Washington Street. It was really beautiful stuff… Here are J.T. and Martha responding to ideas for band names being offered by callers. [They ultimately decided against Smile Pile, opting instead for Farewell Phoenix.]


And there was a lot of other great stuff as well. Our friend Brigid Mooney dropped by to say hello, and make angry faces at us. Ypsilanti historian Matt Siegfried came by to give us yet another chapter of the People’s History of Ypsilanti. [This week, we discussed the land speculation boom of the 1820s.] And we played a few songs by our friend in Kenya, Dr. Peter Larson. And, as if that weren’t enough, my bandmate Dan called in to publicly chastise me for not completing the record cover design for the new Monkey Power Trio EP.


Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Brian Robb for running the board, and Kate de Fuccio for taking all of the photos seen here, with the exception of the one of Nathan Phillips, which was taken by Chris Stranad.

[If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.]

This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Jennifer
    Posted May 5, 2015 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Secret flap? Wtf? Is that a band uniform ‘thing’ now? are there other kinds of garments with secret flaps hiding racist or otherwise outmoded secret logos? Hey there good-lookin’, want to see what’s under my secret flap?

    I haven’t listened to the show — I assume you were too engaged talking about the outrageousness of these students’ behavior — and the emu president’s — to goof on secret flaps. Sorry if you did that already.

  2. Posted May 5, 2015 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    I mentioned JT’s porch show on Washington, which was really beautiful. Here’s a photo.


  3. Posted May 5, 2015 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    And, no, surprisingly we didn’t focus too much on the fact that the racist logo is hidden beneath a secret flap… which is odd.

  4. Posted May 6, 2015 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    Clearly, everyone had a nice time.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Have you seen the new issue of Concentrate?

  6. Lynne
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Great show as always! I love that Ypsilanti song. :)

    Also, fwiw, my favorite part of recent shows has been the Ypsi history part. It is really interesting but *of course* Ypsilanti has an interesting history.

  7. Eel
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    That’s nothing. The EMU marching band pants are lined with burning crosses.

  8. jcp2
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Rather than EMU having a racist mascot, you should propose a vowel addition so that they can have the raciest mascot.

  9. idea man
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Or an new mascot. A drunken, angry, white alumnus.

  10. Anony
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Part of what gets lost in this pandering to the pc dilettantes is an audience to Huron history. Does anyone think trinket-selling pow wows are any better, any more accurate, any less racist than an old historic logo that was meant to be an honor – intended to preserve and teach the history least we forget what happened to them, what was done to them. That was the idea – for every freshman to be told the Huron story as part of orientation. I was.

    If we do it right, we can scrub all of the tribes and their histories cleanly to a 10 minute footnote in an elective history class, pow wows selling kitschy turquoise trinkets and a wiki page, right?

  11. stupid hick
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Note that Florida State gets a pass because the Florida Seminole tribe likes being associated with FSU. Despite the faux tomahawk gestures, chants, mascot costume, etc. My understanding is the name Seminole is not Native American but derived from Spanish. Does it matter that other Native Americans might be offended? Would it matter whether a majority of Seminoles (most live in Oklahoma, not Florida) endorse FSU? Should they get a veto?

    Does anyone know whether any Huron tribe took a position on EMU’s mascot, or whether they were consulted?

  12. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I Am not trying to be contentious–but I vaguely remember the leaders of Wyandotte/ Huron tribes from Trenton or Ontario (I can’t remember) being confused when EMU switched their mascot to the “Eagles”. I think I remember one leader saying something to effect that “we wish we were consulted on our feelings because we would have told EMU that we felt proud to be associated with EMU”. I could be mis-remembering. Can anyone confirm or deny my vague memory? I think I read an article in the “echo”in the early 90’s….I can’t remember for sure…

  13. John Galt
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I have no evidence to point to, but I remember hearing that all of the Indians in Michigan really liked it when the EMU team name was the Hurons.

  14. EOS
    Posted May 6, 2015 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    There is an alumni chapter that wants the retoration of the Huron name and logo. They have the support of two Wyandot Chiefs who are the descendents of those Native Americans who were referred to as Hurons.

  15. Anony
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    The surviving Huron Chief at the time was on EMU’s campus and wasn’t even allowed to speak to the regents. They wanted their name and history to survive and to be taught. The President and Regents refused to hear him speak. Very embarrassing.

  16. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the info, Anony. I remember thinking at the time that EMU was willing to disregard the feelings of the Huron leaders in order to have the opportunity to appear progressive….I can’t access the “echo” article online but I am sure you someone could access the article at the EMU library if they are interested.

  17. Lynne
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I think it is possible for EMU to keep the Huron mascot in a respectful way but let’s be honest. White people do not really have a history of treating native Americans in a respectful way.

    FWIW, I still think EMU should have adopted the emu as a mascot. It would have been so perfect! Eagles is just boring. If anyone wants a drunk fat white EMU alum as a mascot, I would be happy to oblige. har har.

  18. Dan
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I can’t wait to visit Lake Bristly Pig this summer, up by the Bristly Pig National Forest

  19. Matt Siegfried
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    The groups called the Huron by the French in the United States rejected the name Huron in the 1760s, insisting on their own name for themselves, Wyandot or Wendat (people of the peninsula). They even moved from Detroit to Sandusky to assert their independence from the French and French attitudes, like describing them as “Huron”. This was 250 years ago. No group in the US descendant from the historic “Hurons” uses this name to describe themselves.

  20. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    There is a huge opportunity here. EMU should collaborate with native Americans in an attempt to change their name to “The Wyandotte’s”. It could be a win win in terms of publicity and for EMU and native americans. If a university can’t adopt a native American mascot in a deeply respectful and educational way then they do not even deserve the “Emu” as their mascot–and they should stick with the “Eagles” and be content with continuing in the direction of being a generic diploma giving racket…

  21. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    …Of course “Wendat” could be even better if EMU could get support and work in cooperation with the native American people associated with the Wyandotte people.

  22. Lynne
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I would rather that EMU had more required classes on things like Native American history. I did take a really good Native American Lit class there but generally, I am not sure how appropriate it is to name sports teams after ethnic groups (even historical ones like Spartans and I say this as someone with a strong connection to that name at MSU in that my grandfather submitted it in a contest) If they do it with respect and with the participation of the group in question, I wouldn’t oppose it but even then I wonder if there couldn’t be a better mascot?

  23. Matt Siegfried
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Lynne: “I would rather that EMU had more required classes on things like Native American history.”


  24. Matt Siegfried
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    FF, as long as we’re taking native history seriously; the Wyandot never lived on this part of the Huron River (there was a multi-tribal reservation that included many Wyandot near Flat Rock in the 1820s-1840s), it was the Potawatomi who called this part of Michigan home from the founding of Detroit in 1701 until the defeat of the native Confederacy in 1815. The descendants of those very Potawatomi live 90 miles from Ypsi, having evaded removal to Kansas, in Athens, Michigan. Now they call actually do call themselves “Huron”, (Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi) after this river they were born on and removed from to make way for Ypsilanti.

    If Ypsi and Eastern were at all serious about positively presenting the area’s native world, this name would not even be an issue. It would be dropped as insulting, ahistoirc and a reminder of the very real racism and dispossession Michigan’s Indian community’s still face.

    Really? A sports logo is a way of honoring Natives while the actual Natives living in Michigan are disproportionately impoverished, etc. How about honoring Native peoples by not treating them as a “past” and redressing the very real, and very alive, reality of racism and dispossession? And we could begin by getting the story right.

  25. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I was thinking that more mandatory native American studies classes could and should be part of the deal and a necessary part of re-adopting the name in a responsible way. It depends on how it is done, but having your ethnicity as a mascot can be a huge honor.

  26. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the info Matt. I think what you say makes perfect sense and some of your questions should be answered by people who, as some have reported here, are native American and have stated that they are open to the idea of their name used, ethnicity honored, and ancestors lives studied…

    Slow down, Matt. I am talking about cooperation and collaboration and deep respect…American Indian studies courses….

  27. Dan
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 2:32 pm | Permalink


    Why is there no push to force the national and international communities to change the name of the Lake, river, and National Forest if it is so offensive?

  28. Matt Siegfried
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 4:19 pm | Permalink


    I don’t really do the politics of personal offense. It individualizes things and relies on how folks speak rather than who has power and who doesn’t and what that means for our society. Every single name of every single place in America is historically contentious. Every one. History is contentious because the present is contentious. That some are fought about why others are not is probably based on whole number of factors. I would suggest that EMU’s representation of itself as an institution of higher learning that everyone in the state has access to may have something to do with it.

  29. Mike
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    While this is an important conversation, can we all agree that there are at least plausible arguments on both sides, and focus our attention instead on renaming the street honoring Philip “the only good Indian is a dead one” Sheridan?

  30. Dan
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 9:23 pm | Permalink


    I think you’re missing the point. No one here has a problem saying they are kayaking the Huron. Or going to the beach on Lake Huron. Why aren’t those offensive?

  31. 734
    Posted May 8, 2015 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I like the EMU Walking Bears.

  32. Anony
    Posted May 8, 2015 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Here is what the Huron Alumni say about it (link below) – and I can’t vouch for the whole thing but I was there for some of it and certainly Chief Bearskin ‘s treatment while at EMU was embarrassing and represented accurately. In addition, there were a number people saying they were leaders of Hurons who actually were not – simply activists with the objective of stamping out these names and mascots. The pursuit of absolute erasure, I argue, achieves what the white settlers at the time intended. That seems like an ironic and sad result.


  33. kjc
    Posted May 8, 2015 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    “The pursuit of absolute erasure, I argue, achieves what the white settlers at the time intended.”

    one could more easily argue that mascots are an erasure in themselves. a woman I know who directs Native Services at a college in Chicago told me recently that the young Native students she works with are particularly interested in issues of cultural appropriation. maybe we should just listen to them and how they feel instead of arguing against their experience.

    Reminds me of an interview I saw with Osage tribal member Robert Allen Warrior, a professor at Illinois who has done great work on the history of Native scholarship and who doesn’t attend UofI sporting events because he doesn’t want to expose his children to the lingering traditions connected to this appropriation (Chief Illiniwek’s legacy).

    “Empirical research now shows that exposure to this kind of athletic tradition involving Native caricatures or caricatures of Native music—these have a negative impact upon young Native people as they’re exposed to them…It’s interesting to note [with regard to] the damage that’s done to Native kids, it’s shown in the research that white students who are exposed to these same traditions get a boost in their self-esteem from seeing them. So I think this is where for whatever reasons that underly that psychological research, there’s something that draws people to those traditions that gives them a better feeling about themselves. I just find that to be a misplaced feeling when it’s done at the expense of someone else.”

    Continuing to insist that this use of mascots is respectful, when clearly a lot of young people feel otherwise, might be something we shut up doing. These two young people on Mark’s show don’t even show up in the comments, even though they have an actual *experience* related to this issue, unlike so many commenters, who just have armchair offerings. Listening is for losers. Real men have opinions.

  34. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 8, 2015 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I will say that I don’t know of a single native American sports mascot that has done it a respectful way. Cartoon characters in fuzzy suits isn’t going to work. The irony, for me, is that EMU didn’t even get rid of the mascot in a respectful way because they refused to listen to the leaders… That part seems to be missed, here…I do think that EMU, in collaboration with native American organizations, would need to radically rethink the idea of the “Indian mascot” in a creative way in order for it to be respectful and educational obviously….The larger point, I think, is that the issue of naming a college after an ethnicity is not and cut and dry–that is, there is debate within the ethnic group being represented.

    My challenge would be for a University to do it right.

    Mirroring Lynne’s comment–I seriously doubt it could be pulled off if we look at how it has been handled–and that is kind of sad.

  35. Lynne
    Posted May 8, 2015 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Ultimately, I think it is about power. For instance, Notre Dame’s mascot is very cartoonish but I dont know of too many Irish people who don’t like it. I think that is because Irish people these days are now included in the group with power. I am sure that this is why few people were offended when a Native American basketball team named themselves “Fighting Whities” (which actually is unfortunate since the point they were trying to make was lost on many people).

  36. Dan
    Posted May 8, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Why is it “racist” or derogatory in the first place? Are Greeks offended by the use of Spartans as a mascot?

    I understand the issue with calling people Redskins, or the ridiculous Chief Wahoo caricature from the Cleveland Indians. But why is simply having a native tribe name offensive to you? Thats like saying the people that wrangle cows should be offended by Dallas’ mascot

  37. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 9, 2015 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    It is embarrassing that a University can’t get the name and logo right. It seems much more difficult to get the sports mascot right. Everyone has done it wrong so far. All mascots come off as c

  38. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 9, 2015 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Oops…all mascots, I have ever seen come off as so cartoon-like that I am sure some people feel it is mocking them. It is racist to disrespect the feelings of a group, by ignoring their concerns/ feelings, because they happen to be less in number and power.

  39. maryd
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    “It is interesting to note that most mascot names were chosen, and ceremonies using the feathers, drums, and clothing were developed, from the 1920s to the 1950s. During this period of time and up until 1978 it was illegal for Native people to practice their religion. Native people could be, and often were, imprisoned for using these same items in ceremonies. Ironically, while nonnative people were using sacred objects in mimicking the Indians at sports events, Native people had to stand by and watch their culture mocked while they themselves could not participate in the same activities in a religious way. This was not an honor then, and it is not an honor today. Do we not respect the religious rights of the original people in this land because we don’t understand their religions? Our lack of understanding does not minimize its importance to Native people. By using objects considered sacred by Native people for sports events, in this land based on religious freedom we continue to deny Native people respect for their religion. Over 81% of respondents to a poll in Indian Country Today, 500 Native organizations, hundreds of tribes and petitions with signatures in the tens of thousands have called for the retirement of these mascots. If you really want to honor Native people, listen to the voices around the country that are asking to be heard. No matter what the name, if someone says they don’t like it, then only a bully would continue to use it.”

8 Trackbacks

  1. […] « The ugly return of EMU’s racist mascot, injuries on the set of A Prairie Home Companio… […]

  2. […] above are Nathan Phillips (episode 15), Maria Cotera (episode 10), D’Real Graham (episode 6), and Paul Saginaw (episode […]

  3. […] [The above photo above of Michelle Lietz was taken by AM 1700 staff photographer Kate de Fuccio when Lietz, Sutton and Phillips came to visit The Saturday Six Pack. If you missed that episode, you can listen to the audio of the interview here.] […]


  5. […] And, after that, we’ll be joined by Michelle Lietz of EMU’s Native American Student Organization (NASO), who will tell us how it came to pass that the EMU administration, a few days ago, finally gave up the fight and agreed to get rid of their controversial “Huron” logo once and for all. Lietz will be joined in the studio by local historian Matt Siegfried, who will be sharing the story of how the mascot came to be. [If you’d like to hear our first interview with Lietz, back when fight between NASO and EMU was first coming to a head, you can find Episode 15 here.] […]

  6. […] And, after that, we’ll be joined by Michelle Lietz of EMU’s Native American Student Organization (NASO), who will tell us how it came to pass that the EMU administration, a few days ago, finally gave up the fight and agreed to get rid of their controversial “Huron” logo once and for all. Lietz will be joined in the studio by local historian Matt Siegfried, who will be sharing the history of the Wendat, who they were, and who they are now. [It’s the Wendat that the French incorrectly referred to as the Huron.] Speaking of the EMU mascot, have you seen the original version? I suppose it’s good that it became less overtly racist over time, but it’s hard to se it and take people seriously when they say that the mascot now comes from a place of honor. [If you’d like to hear our first interview with Lietz, back when fight between NASO and EMU was first coming to a head, you can find Episode 15 here.] […]

  7. […] [If you’d like to hear our first interview with Lietz, back when fight between NASO and EMU was first coming to a head, you can find Episode 15 here.] […]

  8. […] time I had a real discussion with Nathan it was well over a year ago, when, according to Nathan, he’d been taunted by drunken Eastern Michigan University students in “redface,” wh… So, sadly, this isn’t exactly something new for […]

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