Tribe continues advocacy for federal recognition

The Grand River Bands’ pending request has complicated recent tribal affairs in Michigan.
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Ron Yob speaks at the tribe’s 200th anniversary commemoration in August 2021 for the Treaty of Chicago. Courtesy Facebook

The work toward federal recognition for a Michigan tribe continues despite a new update last month.

The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians applauded the Michigan Senate for recently approving a resolution urging the U.S. Department of the Interior to authorize the tribe’s petition.

Introduced by Sen. Mark Huizenga, R-Walker, Senate Resolution 151 calls for the department to act on the tribe’s request for federal recognition in order for members to receive rights to health care, housing and education assistance and other resources provided to federally recognized tribes.

“We are thankful to Sen. Huizenga for supporting our tribe and honoring our deep roots here in West Michigan,” said Ron Yob, chair of the Grand River Bands.

The tribe’s history dates back hundreds of years as 19 bands of Ottawa people originally lived along the Grand River and other waterways in southwest Michigan. Treaties acknowledging the tribe’s ancestral homelands were signed in 1821 and 1836, and these areas still are sacred to the tribe today.

Additional treaties with the tribe’s involvement include the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, the 1807 Treaty of Detroit and the 1855 Treaty of Detroit.

Today, most members of the Grand River Bands reside in Kent, Muskegon and Oceana counties.

Despite recognition from the state of Michigan, and despite the other treaties and agreements with the federal government, the tribe said it has been advocating for federal recognition for nearly 30 years.

The petition remains on the Department of the Interior’s “active consideration” with no change in status since 2013. The petition was awaiting a final review, which is the last step in the process, before the COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay.

The new urging from the Michigan Senate comes after Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, introduced a similar resolution in the Michigan House of Representatives encouraging approval for the Grand River Bands’ petition.

Delays with the decision have created complications beyond the tribe’s own operations within the West Michigan community.

On June 15, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rejected a request from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians to build an off-reservation casino in Fruitport — a project in the works since 2008. Her reason for denying the proposal related to the Grand River Bands’ pending recognition and the future possibility for the tribe to open a casino of its own in the general area.

“I am unable to concur in the Little River Band’s two-part determination because of the remaining uncertainty created by the Grand River Bands’ pending acknowledgment petition,” Whitmer said in June.

The Department of Interior granted Whitmer a six-month extension after originally requesting her decision by December 2021. Whitmer noted her “impossible position” in the matter as she awaited the department’s own decision on the Grand River Bands.

While the casino rejection was a blow for the Little River Band, the Grand River Bands issued a statement in support of Whitmer’s decision.

“We applaud Gov. Whitmer for her thoughtfulness and for doing the appropriate due diligence to make this important decision,” Yob said.

“With this decision now made, the Grand River Bands will finalize our federal recognition with the potential of pursuing economic development activities in the Muskegon area.”

The Department of the Interior in April said it will issue a decision on the tribe’s recognition by Oct. 15.

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