Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 24, 2013

Grand Traverse officials question tribal land trust decision

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County officials who worry about potentially lost tax revenue are appealing federal authorities’ recent decision to place land into trust on behalf of a local tribe.

County officials believe the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs erred in a March decision to place 12 acres in Acme Township north of M-72 and east of Arnold Road into trust on behalf of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Lands in trust are owned by the federal government on behalf of tribal entities and cannot be taxed by local units of government.

”Our biggest concern is to make sure we are doing the right thing for the people of the community,” said Herb Lemcool, chairman of the Grand Traverse County Commission. “It’s nothing personal against the tribe.”

Lemcool and other county officials wonder if the Band eventually will seek trust status for the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa property. Losing taxes associated with the tribal-owned Resort would result in substantial lost revenue for the county and the township.

”We’ve always had a side concern that some day they might decide to put the Grand Traverse Resort into trust,” Commissioner Larry Inman said.

Tribal leaders have no such plans, said John Petoskey, the tribe’s general counsel.

”That’s clearly never been part of the discussion in the tribe,” Petoskey said.

The county sent notice of appeal regarding the 12-acre plot to the Indian affairs agency on April 2.

The county’s appeal centers on a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the Indian affairs agency’s decision to place land into trust for the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island. The decision stated the Narragansett Indian Tribe was not a recognized tribe under federal jurisdiction in 1934.

The federal Indian Reorganization Act requires that tribal entities were under federal jurisdiction prior to 1934 in order to receive lands placed in trust.

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, like the Narragansett Indian Tribe, was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934, according to a memo from county attorneys.

Petoskey disagreed. The federal government did not officially recognize the Band until 1980, but federal jurisdiction over the Band predates 1934, he said.

Petoskey pointed to a concurring opinion in the 2009 Supreme Court case written by Justice Stephen Breyer that specifically referenced the Band. Breyer argued tribes could have a jurisdictional relationship with the federal government in 1934 based on the existence of treaties and other agreements, even if they were not officially recognized until a later date.

The Narragansett Indian Tribe, by contrast, was neither federally recognized nor under federal jurisdiction in 1934, according to Breyer’s opinion.

Gerald Parish, superintendent of the Indian affairs Michigan Agency, did not return a call seeking comment.

Agency officials are reviewing a second request by the Band to place nearly 160 acres of land east of the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa into trust.