2018-06-21 / Front Page

Tribe seeks reparation support

From townships in county
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


THE TRIBE asserts that 78,000 acres in Leelanau and Antrim counties were wrongfully taken from them. Those lands are depicted by the gray areas in the map above. THE TRIBE asserts that 78,000 acres in Leelanau and Antrim counties were wrongfully taken from them. Those lands are depicted by the gray areas in the map above. The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians is once again seeking support from local units of government for the tribe’s effort to sue the U.S. government, claiming a loss of about 87,000 acres in Leelanau and Antrim counties.

Tribal officials say the land was reserved for the tribe in an 1855 treaty but was unlawfully taken through fraud and mismanagement over the course of several decades.

Most of the land in question is located in Leelanau County, including all of Bingham, Centerville, Leland and Suttons Bay townships, and much of Leelanau Township. Tribal officials stress that they are not seeking to have the land returned to them, but are seeking monetary damages from the U.S.

“In other words, this claim cannot interfere with private landowners’ possession or use of their property today, and nothing in this claim will cloud the land title of our neighbors in Leelanau County,” according to the tribe’s General Counsel, John F. Petoskey, writing in a “Frequently Asked Questions” document he prepared.

The GTB has not indicated the amount of damages expected should it be authorized to sue the federal government and subsequently prevail in federal court. On previous occasions when the tribe has proposed suing the U.S. government over the same issue, estimates of potential “reparations” payments ranged from $30 million to $300 million.

Petoskey has been putting the tribe’s case together for decades, almost since he became the tribe’s General Counsel in 1986. Since the effort began, the tribe has employed the services of historians, anthropologists and other experts to document what happened to the land over time, including the “profoundly dishonest activities of certain officials which caused the illegal transfer(s)…” according to Petoskey.

The tribe first made its efforts to sue the federal government public in 2013 and has tried on more than one occasion since then to get a member of the U.S. Congress to introduce a “bill of reference” authorizing the tribe to file suit. A resolution introduced by former 1st District U.S. Congressional District Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Iron River) died in committee, however.

Now the tribe is trying to convince Congressman Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) to introduce a similar bill. According to Petoskey, Bergman has indicated his willingness to introduce a bill “if it is supported by local units of government.”

So far, Petoskey has approached the Suttons Bay Township Board and the Leelanau Township Board, asking that township supervisors sign letters indicating their respective townships’ support for the tribe’s efforts.

At its regular monthly meeting on June 12, the Leelanau Township Board listened to Petoskey’s presentation in a “respectful and sympathetic” way, according to township Supervisor Doug Scripps, but took no action.

“We will consider this again at next month’s meeting, and I cannot predict how the board will vote,” Scripps said.

A similar scenario occurred at the June 13 Suttons Bay Township Board meeting. Supervisor Rich Bahle said the Suttons Bay Township Board will consider voting on the question at its next regular monthly meeting on July 11.

The Centerville Township Board has already voted to support the tribe’s efforts, according to Supervisor James Schwantes. Centerville Township resident Bill Rastetter, an attorney, presented the question to the Township Board earlier this month.

Schwantes said it is important to stress that Rastetter was not representing the tribe but himself as a Centerville Township resident.

In fact, Rastetter has been representing the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians as an attorney for many decades, working as Petoskey’s colleague and playing a direct role in many of the tribe’s most important federal cases.

Both Petoskey and Rastetter were signatories of a 1993 federal court consent decree which established the “2-percent” tribal casino revenue sharing program. As the tribe’s General Counsel, Petoskey’s office still administers the 2-percent program.

The program requires local units of government to compete for funding to compensate them for governmental services they provide to the tribe. Every six months, the Tribal Council decides which applications for the funding it will honor. Since 1994, the tribe has paid out more than $37 million to numerous units of government and nonprofit organizations within the tribe’s six-county service area in northwestern lower Michigan.

The last time Petoskey asked a local unit of government to endorse his request for Congressional support for the tribe’s lawsuit against the U.S. Government was in 2016. At the time, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners listened to Petoskey’s request, but declined to take any action.

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