The Central Michigan University Chippewas


In 2002, Maynard Kahgegab, Jr., then chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, and Michael Rao, president of Central Michigan University, signed a proclamation pledging their support for strengthening the relationship between the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Central Michigan University “for the enhancement of each other’s goals and visions and for the greater good of all residents of the region, state, and nation.”

The proclamation included a statement of support for the university’s continued use of the Chippewas nickname. CMU’s approach to the Chippewas nickname entails using it in a respectful and honorable manner.

This respectful use of the nickname wasn’t always the case.

CMU started using the Chippewas nickname in 1942 after CMU’s track and field coach Lawrence Sweeney approached the student council to request changing the nickname from the Bearcats to Chippewas. He argued that the Bearcat was too unfamiliar a mascot to provide the kind of atmosphere desired at athletic events and “the Chippewa name opens up unlimited opportunities for pageantry and showmanship.” In practice, this amounted to stereotypical imagery and mockery of Native ceremonies.

The mimicking, stereotyping, and misrepresentation of Native American cultures and people are attitudes and behaviors that will not be tolerated and must be part of the past.

Cultural misrepresentation occurs when Native American sacred objects, cultural ways of knowing, and traditions are used in
a context that strips their cultural meaning.

Because CMU proudly uses a nickname associated with a contemporary people, every effort is made to avoid engaging in behavior that demeans or belittles Native Americans. Such efforts to ensure the nickname is used properly include CMU copyrighting the Chippewas nickname to gain control over unauthorized use.

CMU’s Responsibilities
It is your responsibility as a CMU student or faculty/staff member to use the Chippewas nickname in a respectful and understanding manner. You can learn about this tribal nation’s rich heritage and respectfully use the Chippewas nickname by:

  • Taking time to understand the Chippewa culture and history
  • Attending Native American cultural events
  • Enrolling in a Native American studies course
  • Knowing the difference between respectful and disrespectful uses of the nickname
  • Refraining from disrespectful behavior such as dressing like an “Indian” or performing the “Tomahawk chop”
  • Upon learning the culture and history, let others know what it REALLY means to be a Chippewa