YPSILANTI, Mich. -- When the Eastern Michigan University football team takes the field for its home opener this weekend, members of the school marching band will be sporting uniforms emblazoned with two of EMU's former logos, including one the school dropped 21 years ago amid criticism it was demeaning to Native Americans.
The Ypsilanti school will still be the Eagles -- the nickname and mascot it adopted in 1991 when ditched the Hurons nickname. But EMU added its Hurons and Normalites logos to the uniforms band members will be wearing for Saturday's game against Illinois State, in the hopes that doing so will foster greater unity among its current and former students, including some who never got over the 1991 change.
"We still have Normalites who went to Michigan State Normal and are alive and wear their Normalite logo with pride," school president Susan Martin said, referring to period from the school's 1849 founding as Michigan State Normal College until 1929, when two students won a school contest by proposing "Hurons" as the new mascot. "We have many, many Hurons who are still Hurons in their heart to this day. And, of course, we have been the Eagles for 20 years."
"It's showing respect to the past but embracing the fact that we are all together under the block E and love Eastern," she told The Detroit News.
Critics contend that it's racist and demeaning for schools to use American Indian nicknames and mascots, and for years, the NCAA has been pushing schools to abandon them, threatening sanctions against schools that don't comply or don't get the blessing of the tribe whose name they're using.
Billy Friend, the chief of the Oklahoma-based Wyandotte Nation, a federally recognized band that was once in Michigan and known as Hurons, said the tribe embraces EMU's move.
"Our stance has always been we didn't see it as anything but an honor to the Hurons and Wyandottes," said Friend. "We never saw it as demeaning."
But others criticized EMU's decision.
"I don't like native people being used as mascots in any situation," said American Indian Services director Fay Givens, who supported the 1991 change.
On Saturday, the band's uniforms will include a cap that has EMU's "Eagles" nickname on the back, and a jacket emblazoned with a large "E" on the front. The two former logos -- the Normalite logo is a capital "M" with the word "Normal" inscribed on it -- won't be easy to spot, as they appear under the jacket.
Drum major Adam Sniezek, 21, of Dearborn Heights, said he's honored to carry on the school's traditions.
"We're such a united family," Sniezek said. "It's so special we can carry on the traditions of our alma mater."