Michigan Senate Urges Feds to Recognize Tribe After 28-Year Wait

A decision over recognizing the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians is expected by October. Uncertainty over the petition helped scuttle another tribe’s plans for an off-reservation casino last month.
logo for the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. Michigan Senate Urges Feds to Recognize Tribe After 28-Year Wait
By
July 12, 2022

This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue — it’s about fairness and good governanceLawmakers in the Michigan Senate have asked the federal government to officially recognize a tribe whose 28-year quest for recognition indirectly led to last month’s derailment of plans by another tribe to build a casino in the state.

On June 23, the Senate Committee on Government Operations approved a resolution urging the US Department of Interior (DOI) to give federal recognition to the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. It started its petition for recognition back in 1994.

Specifically, SR 151 called upon the Office of Federal Acknowledgment (OFA) — an office within DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) — to grant federal recognition to the tribe. Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) was the resolution’s chief sponsor, while Sens. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) and John Bizon (R-Battle Creek) were co-sponsors.

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue — it’s about fairness and good governance,” Huizenga said. “The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians have provided important social welfare programs for its members, and other urban tribes and they deserve their long-overdue federal recognition.”

The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians have provided important social welfare programs for its members and other urban tribes, and they deserve their long-overdue federal recognition.Not to be outdone, the Michigan House of Representatives had considered an identical resolution, HR 246, but it never got out of committee. HR 246 was sponsored by Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) and was referred to the House Committee on Government Operations on March 3.

The federal government currently recognizes 12 tribes in Michigan. The OFA has until October 12 to decide on whether to recognize the Grand River Bands.

Uncertainty Forced Governor to Nix Casino in Fruitport

The Senate panel’s approval of SR 151 came just eight days after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rejected plans by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians to build a casino in Muskegon County’s Fruitport Township.

Whitmer rejected the Little River Bands’ plans to build the Lakeshore Casino Resort on June 15, one day before a deadline the DOI had set for the Democratic governor to decide on the facility. The $180 million casino project was planned for the former site of the Great Lakes Downs horse racetrack.

Uncertainty over what the OFA would decide on the Grand River Bands’ petition for recognition forced Whitmer’s hand — she worried that if the OFA recognized the Grand River Bands, the tribe may want to build their own casino on land near the Lakeside site.

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Lakeside needed the governor’s approval because it would have been an off-reservation casino for the Little River Band. Conversely, if the OFA does recognize the Grand River Bands and the tribe ultimately decides to build a casino, it would be an on-reservation.

Recognition of the Grand River Bands could lead the DOI to acquire land in trust for a possible tribal casino. The tribe would need to enter into a Class III gaming compact with the state through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to move such a facility forward. It would be the state’s 16th casino if approved.

It’s unclear if the Grand River Bands would build a casino, should they win federal recognition. But a statement the tribe issued after Whitmer nixed the Lakeside casino could prove telling. The tribe said Whitmer’s decision “leaves opportunities open for local economic development.”

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