michigan department of civil rights

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission has announced that Matt Wesaw will be the new Executive Board Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

Wesaw will be the first Native American to lead MDCR. He has chosen to retire as Chairman of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and President and CEO of the Pokagon Gaming Authority to take this position. In the past, he was a Michigan state police trooper, and a director for the Michigan State Police Troopers Association. He also served on the Commission of Indian Affairs and won the Native American Financial Officers Association's Tribal Leader of the Year award in 2012.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights was created as part of the state constitution drafted in 1963. It’s charged with enforcing civil rights laws and preventing discrimination.

Leslee Fritz is the department’s interim director. She told a group in Grand Rapids Tuesday night the state has come a long way to ensure civil rights in the last five decades.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

City of Hamtramck facing a financial emergency

Following a state review, Governor Snyder has confirmed that the city of Hamtramck faces a financial emergency.

“In 2010, city officials asked to file for bankruptcy. And they asked for this state review, too — which found the city is still running continuous deficits, and can’t make pension payments on time…. The city could get an emergency manager. But Hamtramck officials potentially have other options, including a consent agreement or mediation,” reports Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek.

Terry Lynn Land to run for U.S. Senate

“Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land is the first Republican to announce she’s running for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat. Land is also a Republican National Committeewoman. There could be other candidates waiting in the wings. But Land says the eventual Republican nominee will need the next two summers to raise money, and get out a winning message,” Rick Pluta reports.

Feds dismiss complaint against American Indian mascots

The U.S. Department of Education has dismissed a complaint from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights over schools’ use of American Indian mascots. The civil rights department had argued that the images hurt Native American students’ academic performance, and create an unequal learning environment. But federal education officials say opponents of Indian mascots and logos need to prove that they create a hostile environment for Native American students,” Michigan Radio’s Sarah Hulett reports. 

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Buena Vista schools to reopen

Students in the Buena Vista school district will soon be heading back to the classroom. 

“The state Department of Education has approved the Buena Vista school district’s deficit elimination plan. The state will resume making aid payments, and school is expected to begin again next week for about 400 students,” Rick Pluta reports.

Unemployment rate falls and workforce grows

Michigan’s jobless rate continued to fall as 19,000 people found jobs last month, bringing the unemployment rate to 8.4% in April. The biggest gains were in the leisure, manufacturing, and health services industries while professional and business services declined. The size of the state’s workforce also grew by 2,000 people over the past year.

Department of Civil Rights faces budget cuts over mascot complaint

“The Michigan Department of Civil Rights could see its budget cut by $3 million over its stance on American Indian-themed school mascots. The department recently filed a complaint with the federal government over the mascots … Lawmakers in the state House have introduced a bill that would take money from the department and put it into a fund to help schools pay for any mascot changes,” Jake Neher reports.

Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education asking the federal agency to issue an order prohibiting the continued use American Indian mascots, names, nicknames, slogans, chants and/or imagery.

MDCR's complaint asserts that there is new research which clearly establishes the use of American Indian imagery "negatively impacts student learning," and creates "an unequal learning environment in violation of Article VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

From the complaint:

"A growing and unrebutted body of evidence now establishes that the use of American Indian imagery reinforces stereotypes in a way that negatively impacts the potential for achievement by students with American Indian ancestry," the filing argues. "Continued use of American Indian mascots, names, nicknames, logos, slogans, chants and/or other imagery creates a hostile environment and denies equal rights to all current and future American Indian students and must therefore cease."

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Governor Snyder wants to allocate $400,000 in next year's budget to hire three more inspectors to investigate living conditions of migrant farm workers. 

Alberto Flores is with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. He says that leaves only 8 inspectors to look at housing for the more than 90-thousand migrant workers that come to Michigan every year.

Daniel Krichbaum is head of the only department of state government explicitly authorized by the Michigan Constitution.

He is also executive director of the smallest department of state government, one that few people even know exists. If you haven‘t guessed, it is the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

And if your response is, “huh? Civil Rights? That’s so 1960s. Isn’t that over?” he won’t be surprised. He hears that all the time.

Krichbaum, in fact, has been around for long enough to have had a number of stellar careers. He has a PhD in education and is an ordained Methodist minister. But he’s devoted most of his career to public service, most notably as head of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity. Before that, he spent seventeen years as parks and recreation director for the City of Detroit.