KALKASKA — In the wake of several anti-Muslim sentiments posted by Kalkaska Village President Jeff Sieting, a group of Kalkaska County residents have formed a nonprofit organization to promote education and understanding.
Established in July, Kalkaska for Peace (KFP) came about because of the negative image the village received, both within and outside the community, according to KFP Chair Elizabeth Dunham. She said KFP saw a great need to start promoting understanding and communication.
Dunham witnessed serious misunderstandings between neighbors and community members about other religious and ethnic groups since Sieting posted his comments.
In one November anti-Muslim Facebook post, Sieting called for the death of all Muslims.
In a February post, Sieting wrote, “If you want a pet Muslim to feel all warm and fuzzy about yourself, go get one and drag him into your home to stay. Please. That way we can thin out you bleeding heart wanna-be liberals.”
According to the KPF website, the organization’s mission statement is, “Working toward developing a safe, inclusive and welcoming community by promoting non-discriminatory businesses, educational opportunities and political engagement.”
In August, KFP members circulated a petition through change.org, urging the Village Council to denounce Sieting’s hate speech. As of press time, approximately 1,200 people had signed it.
The petition included a public letter to Governor Snyder which read, “We have taken a strong stance against the hate speech that Kalkaska Village President Jeff Sieting has posted or shared via social media and has refused to disavow. It is our belief that advocating genocide and violence can never be tolerated.”
The petition calls for Snyder to take a position against Sieting’s online posts so that the Village Council will also take a position and enforce the village’s ethical standards of conduct ordinance.
KFP also held an interfaith roundtable event on September 15 in partnership with the Michigan Roundtable for diversity and inclusion and the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC). The well-attended event included state leaders and leaders of different faiths and philosophical backgrounds.
The panel consisted of Minister Andy Bratton of Kalkaska Church of Christ, Fr. Norm Dickson of Saint Mary of the Woods Catholic Church, Pam Ovshinsky of the Petoskey Temple B’nai Israel, Scott Blair of the Grand Traverse Humanists, Cecelia LaPointe from Red Circle Consulting and Detroit-based attorney Tim Attalla.Steve Spreitzer, president of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, moderated the event
Attalla was the Michigan civil rights commission appointee under Gov. Engler from 1991-1998. He said he was compelled to reach out to the people in Kalkaska who were denouncing hate and bigotry to tell them “thank you.”
“I decided it is very important for Muslim Americans to reach out to those who are speaking out against bigotry and against Islamophobes,” he said.
Attalla’s trip last weekend was his second time in Kalkaska. He’d previously made the 240-mile drive to Kalkaska in an attempt to attend a Village Council meeting. However, six of the seven members did not show, including Sieting, so the meeting was cancelled.
Attalla still had an opportunity to talk with locals residents.
“No one argued,” he said. “It was very diplomatic by nature.”
Steve Spreitzer, president and CEO of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, served as moderator at the interfaith roundtable event.
He said Sieting had planned to attend the event, which Spreitzer said, “threatened the safety of the event.”
“We worked with law enforcement and the state police and county sheriff to make sure the space was secure,” Spreitzer said.
Spreitzer also said Sieting discouraged the event from taking place.
On August 28, the Kalkaska Village Council passed a resolution-2017-024 to affirm the rights and protections of all persons.
KFP has applauded this resolution, but said on its blog that, “This statement does not absolve the hateful rhetoric already spoken, remove its negative effects on this community or act as a substitute for an apology.”