Congressional Battle Over Two Michigan Tribal Land Settlements Rages On

Congressional Battle Over Two Michigan Tribal Land Settlements Rages On

6/25/2008
By: Sarah E. Harris On June 25, 2008 the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on H.R. 2176 and H.R. 4115, which would settle land claims of the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, respectively. The bills seek to ratify land claim settlements reached between the two tribes and the State of Michigan over five years ago in 2002, but have succeeded in pitting several very powerful Democratic committee chairman against each other. Generally, the bills provide that the two tribal communities will drop any ancestral claims to land in Charlotte Beach in exchange for lands located elsewhere in Michigan. Pursuant to H.R. 2176 the Bay Mills Indian Community would receive land in Port Huron and H.R. 4115 provides Sault Ste. Marie with land in Romulus. Both bills also provide that the settlement lands be taken into trust by the United States for the benefit of the two tribes, and be declared "lands obtained in settlement of a land claim within the meaning of section 20(b)(1)(B)(i) of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA)." Members of Congress appear to be segregated into two camps: those that view the bills as a means to bring an end to a century long land dispute by implementing a settlement that was negotiated and agreed to by the parties, on one side, and those that view the bills as an illegal expansion of Indian gaming in violation of IGRA, on the other. Both Michigan Senators as well as the current and former Governors of Michigan support the bills. However, Representative John Conyers Jr. (D- Mich.), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Representative John Dingell (D- Mich.), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, have reportedly been clashing over the bills for months. In fact, over the last week, the bills have been the subject of at least three "Dear Colleague" letters in which proponents of the bills urge fellow members to support the bills and opponents request that Members of Congress join in opposition. On July 19, 2008, Conyers - joined by 52 fellow House members - sent a letter to their colleagues detailing their opposition to the bills. The letter states, in part, the members' belief that the bills "use a questionable Indian Tribal land claim to preemptively legalize two new Tribal casinos in Michigan, in defiance of well-established procedures in federal and State law that are designed to limit the expansion of off-reservation casino gaming." The letter further claims that "the casinos would be located 350 miles away from the Tribes' reservations, wholly outside their ancestral lands." In response, Dingell - joined by Rep. Bart Stupak (D- Mich.) (sponsor of H.R. 2176) and Rep. Candice Miller (D- Mich.) (co-sponsor of same) penned a letter to colleagues requesting support for both bills. The three representatives stated that the bills "are critically important to our districts and will bring long overdue resolution to the Bay Mills Chippewa Indian Tribe, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe and the private residents of Charlotte Beach near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan." In contrast with Conyers' letter, the proponents claim that "[t]he legislation ratifies a settlement the tribes reached with the Governor of Michigan in 2002 and accomplishes the tribes' and State's goals in a fair and equitable manner." On June 23, 2008, Representative Nick J. Rahall, II (D- North Carolina) and Representative Don Young (D- Alaska), respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, circulated a similar letter of support. Chairman Rahall and Congressman Young wrote "our Committee has dealt with the complex issues of protecting tribal sovereignty, resolving tribal land claims, and preserving the integrity of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for decades" and note that "[a]fter careful consideration, the Natural Resources Committee overwhelmingly approved this legislation in a bipartisan manner." The intensity of rival interests and constituents calling to Members of Congress is unprecedented in the 110th Congress but, as of this writing the House of Representatives had not yet voted on the two bills. H.R. 4115, A Bill to Provide for and Approve the Settlement of Certain Land Claims of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and relevant legislative history may be viewed by clicking on the following link: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.04115: H.R. 2176, A Bill to Provide for and Approve the Settlement of Certain Land Claims of the Bay Mills Indian Community and relevant legislative history may be viewed by clicking on the following link: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR02176:.
  • EMAIL
  • |
  • PRINT

RELATED PRACTICES: