Feds Offering Zero Help To Gov. Whitmer In Tribal Casino Debate

Not only is Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer still in a pickle, but now that pickle is seemingly stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians wants to build a casino on 60 acres of land in Muskegon County in Fruitport, as first reported by the Michigan Advance. The Little River Band, which is federally recognized, is descended from the villages of the Grand River Bands, which aren’t federally recognized.

Alas, the Grand River Bands claim the land is actually their treaty land, and the tribe opposes the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians casino plan.

“I am deeply concerned and disappointed that another tribe is attempting to pressure the Governor to give away some of our homelands in order to build an off-reservation casino on the treaty lands of our Tribe,” GRB Chairman Ron Yob said in a statement a few weeks ago, according to the Advance. 

But here’s the rub: After 30 years of the tribe trying for federal recognition, the government will reach a decision on the Grand River Bands situation at some point this year. Meanwhile, per an order from former President Donald Trump’s administration just weeks before he left office, Whitmer has until Thursday to reach a decision on the casino plan.

Seeing herself in an impossible situation, she wrote a letter to the Department of the Interior asking for one of two things — either allow her decision on the Little River plan to wait, or for the DOI to move up its decision on the Grand River Bands petition.

“My concurrence with the Little River Band’s two-part determination could frustrate the Grand River Bands, which may wish to open their own gaming facility on tribal lands not far from Fruitport Township,” Whitmer wrote in part, according to the Advance, “all while the Grand River Bands still does not know how likely they are to be federally recognized.”

Uncle Sam responds

This week, the DOI responded, according to an article on MLive.com, and basically told Whitmer, “tough cookies.”

In short: Whitmer has to decide by Thursday whether to allow the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians to build a casino on land that might, in a few months’ time, be considered part of another tribe’s federally recognized land.

“When it comes to decisions of this magnitude, it’s critical that we have all of the information needed to make an informed decision,” read a statement from Whitmer’s office in response to MLive’s questions about the fate of the project. “The Department of the Interior’s failure to provide necessary information by either extending the deadline for a decision on the Little River Band’s proposal or issuing a proposed finding in response to the Grand River Bands’ acknowledgement petition is disappointing. We continue to review next steps ahead of Thursday’s deadline.”

One other wrinkle to all this: Should the federal government approve the Grand Rivers Band request to be federally recognized, it could pave the way for the tribe to become the 16th online gaming operator in the state.

Photo: Ryan Garza/USA TODAY

Author: Bradley King