By Kaitlin Williams, Deputy Magazine Editor
Published April 5, 2012
For decades, the University’s secret society Michigamua held its weekly meetings on the seventh floor of the Michigan Union.
Do you think societies like Order of Angell should exist at the University?
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In Feb. 2000 University student Joe Reilly and other representatives of the Students of Color Coalition opened the door to their meeting grounds. What they saw shocked and disgusted them, Reilly said in an interview yesterday.
The room was adorned like a Native American wigwam. Lining the walls were pictures of former Michigamua members clasping tribal artifacts. Plaques displayed pictures of members with nicknames such as “Great Scalper Yost,” Reilly said.
Reilly and his cohorts occupied the tower for 37 days. In the wake of their protest Michigamua was relocated. Gone was the meeting space of the past 70 years.
Twelve years later you’re tapped to join this organization.
The group’s name is different now and it claims to have moved away from its controversial past. But its proceedings are still veiled in secrecy. This is evident from the tapping alone. There is no application, no cover letter, no interview. Just the tap. The tap, and a great feeling of pride.
Getting tapped is no easy feat. Out of 25,000 nameless and faceless undergraduates at this school, you’re one of 25.
Order of Angell, the organization formerly known as Michigamua, wants you to join their senior society.
You're out with a friend later that day and can barely contain your excitement. I was tapped, you tell her.
Your friend tells you Order is a racist and sexist group. Another friend is happy for you but points out that the group has only recently moved away from a past wrought with mistakes.
Curious about what you might be getting yourself into, you take the Commuter North bus to the Bentley Historical Library to pore over boxes of documents and photos preserving the history of the secret society.
You discover Michigamua was conceived by University President James B. Angell and a group of then-juniors called the Hot Air Club. You discover the traditions of Michigamua in a box that includes pictures and lists of Native American-inspired nicknames like Grunting Moose Davock and Squaw Cheek Curtis. New members used to be publicly initiated on the steps of the Michigan Union during Rope Day — when members and prospects dropped in mock-Native American attire and painted themselves red. You also find a picture of new members passing a “peace pipe.”
This is the hint of the racism that would impel Reilly and the SCC to occupy Michigamua's meeting grounds in 2000.
Still, if you accept, you join a legacy that includes former President Gerald Ford, Heisman winner Tom Harmon and hundreds of other success stories.
If you decline, you recant a history that involves the imitation of Native American culture in racist and insensitive practices, the exclusion of women members until 2000 and an air of secrecy that has never been cleared.
The group’s unofficial mission is to “fight like hell for Michigan.” But with a continued closed-door policy, what does the group actually do?
Addressing and redressing
Michigamua changed its name to Order of Angell in 2006. This change marked a deliberate distancing from a secretive past.
This past included the decades spent on the seventh floor of the Union.
But the Union meetings stopped when Reilly and other members of the Students of Color Coalition occupied the seventh floor of the Union . It was there that they discovered Native American artifacts lying around — an explicit violation of an agreement the group signed in 1989 banning such displays.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Reilly said the SCC’s occupation in Feb. 2000 was a long time coming.
“What we did was a continuation of students before us … who since the 1970s were trying to bring light to the fact that Michigamua was appropriating Native American culture,” Reilly said. “That created a hostile environment for native students on campus, to feel like your culture and your spirituality was part of this hazing ritual. It was being appropriated by a group of non-native students who were very privileged.”
Past Michigamua members made allegations that the artifacts were strategically placed in the meeting space by SCC members. But Reilly said the claims are “ridiculous.”
“Whoever’s alleging that we planted those items is trying to hide the fact that those things were there and that’s part of the history of Michigamua,” he said. “They basically created this pseudo-Indian tribe on this public University campus to promote their kind of elitist view of leadership.”
Leaving the Union after 37 days, the protesters took the artifacts with them.