Federal Government Determines Michigan Tribe Does Not Qualify for Assistance

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The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians face yet another delay in their journey to become a federally recognized tribe. The Department of Interior failed to meet the deadline set for February 9th and extended its decision window another two weeks. Since that extension, the DOI determined that the GRB does not meet the “distinct community” requirements to be recognized as a federal tribe. Now the tribal community has six months to refute the decision. 

Federal recognition would be life-changing for many members of the GRB tribe. Federally recognized tribes qualify for health care, tuition assistance, and housing, among other resources. Unfortunately, this story is strikingly similar for many tribes today in the United States.

According to www.usa.gov, there are 574 federally recognized tribes. Compare that with the almost 400 tribal communities that are not federally recognized.

In the GRB’s case, the lack of federal recognition is preventing the tribe from accessing land their ancestors previously occupied. To make matters worse, the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians has been recognized by the Michigan state government as a historic Native American Tribe since 1996. Despite this fact, the federal government has refused to recognize the tribe since they first applied for federal recognition back in 1994. 

So for almost 30 years, the GRB has fought to secure financial assistance from the federal government. The federal government finally moved the GRB tribe to the active consideration list in 2013 but still refused to provide an answer for struggling tribe members. Unsurprisingly, the move was just a way for the federal government to buy more time. Since 2017, the DOI has requested at least nine extensions, citing administrative issues as the reason for the delay. 

Other Federally Recognized Tribes

There are 12 federally recognized tribes in the state of Michigan: Bay Mills Indian Community, Grand Traverse Bay of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Hannahville Indian Community, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe), Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians currently have 600 enrolled members from 19 different Ottawa bands. The majority of residents live beside waterways in Western Michigan’s Kent, Oceana, and Muskegon counties. If the tribe eventually gained federal recognition, they would be allowed to construct a tribal casino on land they deem part of their ancestral homelands. 

Back to the Drawing Board

The GRB now has six months to submit evidence to challenge the DOI’s decision. GRB member and chair, Rob Yob, commented on the recent news, stating, “while we disagree with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s initial findings on our petition, we are confident we can provide the additional information requested and ultimately achieve the long overdue federal recognition for our tribal members.

“The Grand River Bands has a long history in Michigan, with agreements with the federal government dating back to 1795, and we are a state-recognized tribe. We have support from numerous lawmakers, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, other tribes, business groups, community organizations, and West Michigan residents who have and continue to advocate alongside us, and we remain confident we will be granted federal recognition and be able to provide justice and critical resources for our members.”

Other Tribes in Michigan Seeking Federal Recognition

The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians are hardly alone in their journey. Three other state-recognized tribes are also seeking federal recognition: the Swan Creek Black River Confederated Ojibwa Tribes of Michigan, the Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, and the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (also known as the Cheboiganing Band). 

Mac Daniel is a writer for PlayOnlineCasino and PlayOnlineSportsBetting. He has experience writing about a wide variety of topics, including healthcare, tourism, non-profit organizations, and most recently casino and sportsbetting news. To check out more of his work, visit: playonlinemichigan.com