Gambling Legislation

Michigan tribe’s fight for recognition could lead to new casino

Michigan tribe's fight for recognition could lead to new casino

The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians are lobbying for federal recognition

The decades-long effort by a West Michigan Native American tribe to be recognized by the US government is taking a new approach after Representatives Hillary Scholten and John Moolenaar introduced bipartisan legislation to have the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians recognized by the US government. The tribe of less than 500 members lives mainly in Kent, Muskegon and Oceana counties.

The tribe has been pushing for federal recognition by the US Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs since 1994. The new bill was introduced after the tribe’s recent setback in February. Scholten said in an interview that they’re seeking a legal solution because the government’s process has been “insulting” and “continues not to recognize inherent tribal dignity.”

The biggest challenges have included “overly bureaucratic burdens that are not recognizing the nature and the integrity of the tribe” and demanding that they “produce documents that they would never have to begin with because that’s not how the tribe keeps records,” Scholten added.

Grand River Bands Tribal Chairman Ron Yob said, “We will pursue every possible avenue to achieve our recognition and provide long-awaited justice to our members.”

Only tribal recognition would be provided by the bill, and it would not offer tribal lands to the Grand River Bands. Passing the legislation would bring many benefits, such as out-of-pocket costs for Medicaid, tuition benefits and housing. Recognition by the US government is also required if the tribe decides to build a casino in the future, which it says never came up in the conversation.

Scholten also said, “In early conversations with both Republican and Democratic leadership in that committee, they’re very eager to take this bill up.”

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