2017-09-14 / Front Page

Indigenous Day may get vote

Racism being charged
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


TRIBAL ELDERS John and Eva Petoskey listen to Leelanau County Board members expressing differing opinions about the county adopting an resolution to recognize “Indigenous Peoples Day” this year on Oct. 9, the same day as Columbus Day. TRIBAL ELDERS John and Eva Petoskey listen to Leelanau County Board members expressing differing opinions about the county adopting an resolution to recognize “Indigenous Peoples Day” this year on Oct. 9, the same day as Columbus Day. Despite a split vote and concerns raised by County Board members, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners will consider adopting a resolution next week to declare the second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples Day” in Leelanau County.

Columbus Day — a federal holiday not observed by the Leelanau County government — is Oct. 9 this year, the same day.

A tribal elder and attorney acting as a private citizen, John Petoskey of Peshawbestown, was clearly disappointed that no vote was taken Tuesday morning to recommend adoption of the “Indigenous Peoples Day” resolution. Instead, the resolution will be brought up again at next week’s meeting for consideration of adoption.

Petoskey, coincidentally, is the General Counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (the GTB) and head of the tribe’s legal department. That department is also responsible for administering the tribe’s “2-percent” casino revenue sharing program.

District No. 4 Commissioner Ty Wessell had requested that the “Indigenous Peoples Day” resolution be added to the agenda of this week’s County Board executive meeting.

But as the agenda was being considered for adoption, District No. 7 Commissioner Melinda Lautner asked that the resolution be removed. Lautner said she had questions about the resolution that would require her to make some phone calls, and there was “no hurry” to adopt the resolution.

District No.2 Commissioner Debra Rushton said she was concerned that the resolution might enhance the tribe’s efforts to sue the U.S. government over alleged mismanagement of an 1855 treaty that established a tribal reservation in Leelanau County and resulted in the tribe’s loss of thousands of acres. The Tribe is seeking to be compensated.

Wessell then offered an amendment to Lautner’s motion that would allow the issue to be advanced to next week’s agenda for consideration. That motion carried 6-1 with District No. 3 and County Board Chairman Will Bunek opposed.

Bunek said he, too, needed more time to study the issue.

During a public comment opportunity, Petoskey stressed that he was not representing the tribe, only himself.

The last time Petoskey appeared before the County Board was in January 2016 when he was acting on behalf of the tribe in his capacity as its General Counsel. The tribe was seeking the county’s support for federal legislation that would allow the tribe to sue the federal government for allegedly mismanaging 78,000 acres of land in Leelanau and Antrim counties that were part of an 1855 reservation that was subsequently “stolen” from the tribe.

Back in January 2016, the County Board listened politely to Petoskey’s proposal, but opted to take no action. The tribe is seeking monetary compensation believed to be in the tens of millions of dollars for the federal government’s failure to ensure that tribal lands would remain federally protected. The lawsuit remains mired in a legal limbo, however.

Tribal members have been making it clear since at least the 1990’s that they are no fans of Columbus Day, either – a day to them that signals the dominance of Europeans over the Americas and, in some cases, the wholesale genocide of indigenous American populations.

Last month, tribal officials formally and publicly denounced the arrival of two ships in Traverse City that are replicas of ships Columbus used when he “discovered” the New World. Tribal protestors manned a dock at Clinch Park and took measures to “educate” the public about Columbus from the perspective of indigenous peoples.

Lautner said at this week’s meeting that she “appreciates all the natives who settled this county, and there are many of them.”

That remark apparently prompted a public comment from Gayle Madison of Omena who suggested that the same racism just below the surface in Charlottesville, Va., during demonstrations there last month may also be in evidence in Leelanau County.

Following public discussion of the issue, Lautner wondered aloud whether the County Board’s adoption of an “Indigenous Peoples Day” resolution might increase chances of the county receiving a bigger share of tribal “2-percent” funding.

Wessell said he was recommending that the County Board invite Tribal Chairman Thurlow “Sam” McClellan to present a report to the board at an upcoming meeting on the importance of “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

However, county administrator Chet Janik said that he had unsuccessfully tried several times in recent weeks to phone McClellan to ask him about the status of “2-percent” payments the county is expecting to receive from the tribe. The payouts to local governments were stipulated in a 1993 federal court consent decree because the tribe pays no local property taxes on its casinos or any of its reservation land.

The most recent casino revenue sharing payments have been delayed, however, due to what tribal officials described as “legal questions.” Tribal officials told the Enterprise last week that most of the $721,904 in checks being distributed in the current six-month payout cycle have already been mailed.

Leelanau County officials said this week the county still hasn’t received checks for any of the $131,483 the county has requested in the most recent “2-percent” payout cycle.

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