Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

September 29, 2013

Editorial: Band's claim should get day in court

When the United States signed treaties in the 1800s with Indians in the Grand Traverse area, the government made a deal — cede us vast amounts of land to be sold to settlers, and we will, in return, reserve thousands of acres to be used as tribal homelands, for the exclusive use by the tribes.

But according to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, those promises were broken, and much of what was supposed to be tribal homeland was sold to settlers and lumber firms. The band has now announced its intent to sue the government for compensation.

“Despite those treaty protections, many ‘reservation’ lands were sold to non-Indians in violation of the treaty obligations,” the tribe said in a document that seeks to answer questions about its planned claim.

Such a suit could cost federal taxpayers tens of millions of dollars — some have estimated it at $300 million (including interest) — to pay the tribe for roughly 87,000 acres in Leelanau and Antrim counties sold to non tribal members.

Tribal attorney John Petoskey said the tribe doesn’t want to reclaim land from current owners, so property owners can rest easy. But tribal officials strongly believe members deserve to be made whole for what Petoskey described as illegal land transactions that violated an 1855 treaty.

“It was sold illegally by (federal) Indian agents to non-Indians,” Petoskey said.

If the Band’s claims can be verified — and no one seriously challenged their version of events as the tribe went through federal recognition efforts decades ago — the band was wronged. Instead of reserving those thousands of acres for tribal members, they were sold off to white settlers and lumber companies.

Over a 40-year period, the tribe said it lost virtually all of the 87,000 acres in question. The tribe said its money damage claim is based on the Fifth Amendment protection against the taking of private property without compensation.

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