September 8, 2011

HUD Denies Cherokee Funding Over Freedmen Issue

WASHINGTON – The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has released a letter indicating that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is withholding funds from the tribe in an apparent federal power play over tribal sovereignty.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Diane Hammons has publicly released a letter sent last week from the tribe to HUD that says the tribe learned of the agency’s action when tribal officials tried to draw approximately $33 million from their HUD housing fund on August 31 and were blocked from doing so.

Hammons writes in the letter that HUD based its rationale on what she labels a “misinterpretation” of Section 801 of the 2008 reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA). That section deals with the Cherokee Freedmen and sought to limit HUD monies to the Cherokee Nation while litigation was pending centering on whether the Freedmen were tribal citizens.

The Freedmen, descendants of slaves once held by tribal citizens, have long argued that they should be granted full citizenship. But some tribal citizens, including some tribal leaders, have staunchly argued that it is appropriate for the tribe to deny them citizenship based on rules enforced by the tribal government. Federal beliefs on the matter should have no bearing, tribal officials have argued.

The latest court action involving the controversial issue came August 22 when the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court upheld a previous voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring all of the tribe’s citizens to have at least one Indian ancestor on the federal Dawes Rolls. That decision resulted in nearly 3,000 Freedmen being kicked out of the tribe.

In response, Freedmen members filed suit in federal court last week seeking to establish their voting rights in the tribe in time for a tribal election for principal chief coming up later in September. In court documents, the Freedmen argue that the tribe violated a 145-year-old treaty when the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court restored the voter-approved amendment denying citizenship to non-Indian descendants of tribal citizens’ former black slaves. A hearing on the request has been scheduled for September 20.

Time is of the essence in the matter because the tribal court decision, if allowed to stand, would prevent the Freedmen from voting in a September 24 election between tribal councilman Bill John Baker, who is supported by the Freedmen, and former Principal Chief Chad Smith, who is largely not supported by the Freedmen. The tribal court in July threw out the results of a disputed June 25 election between Baker and Smith in which the Freedmen voted.

Regardless of whether the Freedmen are citizens or not, Hammons argues in the letter that the tribe followed the necessary legal pathway to secure HUD funding. She says, too, that Congress would have specifically limited funds to the Cherokee Nation if it intended to do so under the law.

HUD officials confirmed the denial of funds, issuing the following statement September 7: “HUD has suspended disbursements to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma while we seek additional guidance on an unclear statute involving the Freedmen. The funding can be restored once this issue is resolved.”

HUD’s decision to suspend millions of dollars in payment to a tribe based on an issue involving tribal sovereignty is widely controversial in Indian country. The concern is that federal agencies could create rules that would suspend payments to tribes based on other “unclear” interpretations of federal-tribal agreements.

“[T]he important thing to notice is the direct attack by the non-Indian freedmen descendants on the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation, asking for the termination of the tribe’s existence,” Hammons said in a statement, which supports the idea of tribal sovereignty being under attack.

Some federal lawmakers, meanwhile, agree with the decision to limit funding.

“I do not believe the federal government should continue to fund the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma if it is blatantly violating the rights of some members,” U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., wrote in a recent letter to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. The congressman asked Donovan to “act appropriately to prevent any funding from the federal government for tribal housing.”

Frank sent another letter to Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, asking that he “take appropriate action to protect the rights of the Cherokee Freedmen.” Echo Hawk has not publicly responded.

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September 9, 2011

Walk4justice 2011 the start B.C.-Alberta

Click here to view the embedded video.

This year’s Walk4Justice started on June 21, in Vancouver and will end in Ottawa on September 19. Marchers tread across the country annually to commemorate hundreds of missing and murdered women, many of them aboriginal.

Read Talliman’s coverage of the issue here.

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Alberta’s Oil Sands Come to Brooklyn

On one side of the frame is ethereal autumn forest. As your eye travels toward the top of the photo, a stark line. The golden foliage ends abruptly, and you are staring at Mordor: black and gray ash hills amid fetid pools of oily muck and belching smokestacks.

Such is the visual journey that photographer Garth Lenz, who grew up in British Columbia, took over the notorious oil sands of the Peace Athabasca Delta to observe the industrial development known as the Alberta Oil Sands. Now he brings them to those of us who do not have physical access to the massive wound in Canada’s boreal forest that would furnish our replacement for Middle Eastern oil, if western industry and political leaders would have their way.

His photo series, Canada’s Tar Sands and the True Cost of Oil, won first place in a photo competition at Social Documentary.net, Ten Years After Nine/Eleven: Searching for a 21st Century Landscape. It is on display through September 16 at the PowerHouse Arena in Brooklyn, part of a larger show that connects the U.S.’s so-called oil addiction to the events of September 11, 2001. A reception will be held on Saturday, September 10, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to showcase the exhibit and the connection.

You can find rsvp information and directions here.

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More Arrests Made in 2009 American Indian Beatings

On September 7 documents were filed in district court in Grants, New Mexico for the arrest of five men for an attack in June 2009 on Native Americans.

According to an article in the Cibola Beacon, Augustine Chavez, Eloy Maes, Jeremy Chavez, Adrian Madrid and Michael Maes are being charged on 14 counts of aggravated burglary and battery.

For the full story click here.

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September 13, 2011

Political Party! Celebrating UNDRIP and Indigenous Culture in Montreal

For more than two hours on a sunny summer morning in early August, hundreds of young men and women, wearing elaborate headdresses, intricately beaded, ribboned and appliquéd regalia and fancy footwear ornamented with shells and bells, danced and drummed their way along Montreal’s busiest downtown thoroughfare to the Place des Festivals, where children read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to a cheering throng attending the 21st annual First Peoples Festival.

LO RES FEA Photo UND28550C 270x202 Political Party! Celebrating UNDRIP and Indigenous Culture in Montreal

Some members of the Peruvian delegation were showing—but not seeing—red.

This grand spectacle was the first international parade of friendship and solidarity in celebration of the passage of the U.N. declaration, which was adopted by Canada only last year. The Parade of Friendship of Our America with the People of Montreal and the First Nations included cultural groups—singers, dancers, musicians, storytellers and more—from Chile, Panama, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Cuba, Colombia, Bolivia and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, upon whose aboriginal territory the festival takes place each year. “We are marching to the sound of the drum, in the tradition of brotherhood, sisterhood and friendship among the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, the people of Montreal and the First Nations,” said André Dudemaine, Innu, the cultural director of the festival. “The parade gives voice to the ideals of peace the First Peoples Festival has always stood for.”

The parade was one of the highlights of an annual weeklong festival (August 2 through August 9 this year)—the city’s signature celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ art, history and cultures, from Turtle Island and around the world. The activity-packed week included screenings of dozens of indigenous films and videos; exhibits of paintings, sculptures, photographs, baskets and pottery; demonstrations of traditional artisan skills; workshops, lectures, forums and storytelling; and performances by dozens of musicians, singers and dancers.

The festival always combines culture, art and political activism—a combination clearly on display in the UNDRIP parade. The UNDRIP was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2007, but the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand—countries with similar colonial histories and populations of Indigenous Peoples with legitimate claims to huge areas of their aboriginal lands—voted against the international document that defines and supports indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. Those four countries worried that UNDRIP would undermine their sovereignty, particularly with regard to land disputes and natural resources, but they’ve since endorsed the declaration: Australia in April 2009, New Zealand in April 2010, Canada in November 2010, and the United States in December 2010.

The many cultural groups began to gather in Phillips Square around nine a.m. on the day of the parade, and the square quickly filled up with people drawn by the drumming and the colorfully dressed groups who happily posed for photos while event organizers rushed around making last-minute arrangements.

Dr. James Cockcroft, a group coordinator of the Citizens Committee of Quebec 2001, a grassroots social-justice organization, says the celebration was the culmination of 10 years of work in building cultural alliances. His committee organized the parade along with Land InSights, the festival’s main organizer, and Base de Paix (Peace Base), a peace group. “Ten years [after forming the committee], we were right [about seeking solidarity] and this huge coalition of social movements and prominent individuals like André Dudemaine, like Naomi Klein, like Noam Chomsky, has come together at the invitation of the First Nations on this famous annual week of cultural events.”

Cockcroft says the parade was a culmination of the visions of Latin American heroes such as Cuban national hero, poet and activist José Marti and Venezuelan resistance leader Gen. Simón Bolívar, who won independence from Spanish colonial rule for what would become Bolivia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. “Both men envisioned a coming together of the Americas and this parade is very important because it’s the first time this has happened in North America. So this is the historic first moment of a long coming together that the dreamers of the world have dreamed of for centuries—creating acts of human solidarity, human community, peace, love and the respect for Mother Earth.”

Before the parade began, representatives from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Quebec Native Women, Amnesty International and the Montreal Central Council of the Confederation of National Trade Unions gave speeches supporting Indigenous Peoples and the declaration.

First Nations have solid support from Canada’s unions. The Central Council’s Statement of Principles includes an entire section respectful of aboriginal peoples’ rights, calling for “a genuine Aboriginal presence in Quebec society, because Aboriginal people are the first occupants of the territory.” The council supports aboriginal peoples’ demands for autonomous governments and recognizes their inalienable right to self-determination. “The construction of harmonious relations of cooperation in Quebec must be based on the fundamental and indispensable principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” the council’s statement says.

AFN Regional Chief of Quebec and Labrador Ghislain Picard, Innu, began his speech before the parade with a tribute to Chief William Commanda, the Anishinabek spiritual leader who died on August 3 at the age of 97. “We took him to his resting place yesterday. He was key not only in the adoption of the U.N. declaration, but in all the work leading up to it throughout the last 25 years,” Picard said while dedicating the parade to Commanda.

Picard reminded the crowd about the work that still needs to be done. “There’s a time to celebrate, which is today, but tomorrow we have to take on the battle again, because obviously we have difficulty with the Canadians,” meaning the federal government. The AFN pressured the Canadian government to endorse UNDRIP and it took three years for them to change their stance on UNDRIP, Picard said. “Now we need to make sure they’re responsible for upholding the principles of the declaration.” Both Canada and the U.S. referred to the declaration as “aspirational” and “not legally binding” in their statements of support.

“We can only remain optimistic,” said Picard. “We didn’t have a U.N. declaration 25 years ago; now we have one, but the challenge is still very important for Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the U.S. and the Americas as a whole…at some point the government will have to understand that fact. At the same time, it’s up to us to educate our own people and make sure there’s enough pressure on governments to abide by the declaration.”

When the speeches ended, the dancers, drummers and crowd left the square and paraded to the festival site, which had been blessed in ceremony by First Nations citizens. A group of children under the age of 10 took turns reading the declaration while the crowds that had followed the parade to the Place des Festivals cheered and applauded.

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September 19, 2011

Métis Honor Anniversary of Landmark Rights Decision

On September 19, 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Métis, as a distinct aboriginal group, had legal harvesting rights.

The landmark case capped a 20-year battle to get Métis rights recognized along with those of other aboriginals as laid out in section 35 of the 1982 Constitution Act, according to the Métis of Alberta and the Métis National Council (MNC).

The court’s unanimous decision affirmed that Section 35 of the act applies not only to First Nations and Inuit but also to Métis. Although Section 35 ostensibly included the Métis, who are descendants of colonial fur traders and Indians, the latter group found themselves struggling for the same level of recognition as their Inuit and First Nations counterparts.

For the next two decades, Section 35 “remained largely an unfulfilled promise to the Métis Nation, with governments in Canada taking the position that the Métis had no existing Aboriginal rights protected by s. 35; thereby, refusing to negotiate or deal with the Métis people and their rights,” the MNC says on its website. “In response to these steadfast federal and provincial government positions, beginning in the early 1990s, the Métis Nation began its ‘hunt for justice’ in the courts, in order to attempt to breathe life into the constitutional commitment made in 1982.”

R. v. Powley, as the case was known, was heard in March 2003. It involved a hunter and his moose haul. According to the MNC, Steve and Roddy Powley, a father and son, had been charged with hunting moose without a license after they killed a bull moose near Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, in 1993. They were also charged with unlawful possession of moose, in violation of Ontario’s Game and Fish Act. They went to court, which ruled in their favor in 1998, but the Crown kept at it, and kept losing. The Crown’s final loss came before the Supreme Court.

“The Powley decision marks a new day for the Métis Nation in Canada,” the MNC site says. “The Supreme Court’s decision is a respectful affirmation of what the Métis people have always believed and stood up for, as well as, an opportunity for Canada to begin fulfilling its substantive promise to the Métis.”

Here, some toe-tappin’ footage of the Métis Fall Festival square dancing competition in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Proposed Alaska Coal Mine Divides Alaska Communities, Elicits Racist Rant

The Wishbone Hills coal mine, a controversial project proposed by the Usibelli Mine Company five miles west of the small community of Sutton, Alaska, and Chickaloon Village of the Chickaloon Tribe, is driving a wedge between local community members.

At a contentious September 7 town hall meeting that overflowed the building’s capacity to discuss the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ mining renewal permits for the project, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly favored positively. A Chickaloon Tribal resolution was against, said Ahtna Athabascan/Suqpiat and Chickaloon tribal member Shawna Larson, a spokesperson for Chickaloon Village Coal.

A news story September 8 in the Anchorage Daily News elicited a racist rant in the comments section that ran for at least one day before the newspaper pulled it.

“Chickaloon and Sutton now owe their existence to federal tax money that is given to the ‘Chickaloon Indians’ who, for the most part are less Indian than my dog, and who want nothing more than to leech off of the rest of us,” the comment read. “…This is about a few deciding on the basis of emotionalism and feelings about something that they perceive as a problem without bothering to find out what steps are required to mitigate the problem. We do need the jobs. The needs of the many outweigh the idiocy of the few.”

The comment exposed an underlying racism that has continued through generations in these communities, of which the tribe has bore the brunt, said Larson. “A lot of those folks are descendants of the miners that migrated to the area in the 1930s and so some of that is mining pride.” According to the 2000 census, the population of Mat-Su Borough is 82.8 percent white with an American Indian population of 5.5 percent. The tribe is the third largest employer in the borough.

The borough’s mayor, Larry DeVilbiss, supports the project, as do community members who want the 75 to 125 jobs that Usibelli says the operation will bring. Those opposed include the tribe, property owners, and hunters in the area.

Pamela Miller, executive director of the Anchorage-based Alaska Community Action on Toxics said the mine poses a severe threat. “Coal dust is very much a threat to the health of people, and children and elders are especially vulnerable,” Miller said. Neighborhoods have sprung up since the original remote mine went into operation, and since the last small scale mining in the 1980s, and now lie within a half mile of the proposed project.

“The Chickaloon Tribal School is very close, so the tribe is very concerned about their children’s health,” Miller said. “Very fine coal dust can lodge very deep in the lungs and cause long-term damage and respiratory symptoms. We’ve also seen the divisiveness pitting community member against community member. The displays of racism towards the tribe are very disturbing to watch, and I think are the most troubling about this issue.”

Usibelli “has a number of good relationships with people in Sutton, both Native and non-Native,” said their spokesperson Lorali Simon. “We listen to people’s concerns and will do our best to reasonably accommodate them. Our mining permit is very comprehensive on environmental protections. Most people have not read the 3,100 page permit, so they do not fully understand how comprehensive it is.”

A resident who lives near their current Healy mining operation said Usibelli is a good neighbor. “Usibelli’s operation here has gone beyond what they have to do to restore mined areas. They’ve involved school classes planting trees and getting lessons in ecology, and they’re good to the community and their workers,” said Healy resident Judy Starkey-Saylor, who does not work for the mine. Starkey-Saylor said she is unaware of the current controversy, “But I do have concerns about the way I’ve heard the Chickaloon people have been treated in the past.”

The Ahtna once thrived in temperatures 90 degrees in the summer to 60 below in the winter. They trapped, followed caribou herds, and the return of the salmon. “Chickaloon Village was a central trading point,” Larson said. “There is an understanding among our people that Creator put us here to take care of the land, animals, forest and each other. I was taught stewardship is our responsibility from my grandparents, who were taught the same by their ancestors.”

The first white expedition through Chickaloon in the late 1880s found a vein of high quality coal, and the non-Native population soared to some 3,000. “Oral history tells us that at time of contact there were about 800 people here,” Larson said. “After the mine pulled out in 1922 less than 40 indigenous people remained.”

Outside laws enforced by game wardens controlled when they could hunt or fish. Over harvest by non-Natives reduced animal populations. Industrialization drove them away. Sewage, toxic coal tailings, and hazardous wastes washed into the rivers decimating the salmon. The rapid diet changes predisposed them to illnesses seen today in alarmingly high rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. “The introduction of foreign foods also caused an incredible disconnect with the symbiotic relationship with the land and animals that had always been a crucial part of our cultural identity,” said Larson.

Perhaps the hardest hit were their women, matriarchal leaders who became little more than property of the men who arrived to work in Chickaloon, Larson said. “My great-great-grandfather, a 30-year-old from Arkansas found my great-great-grandmother playing in the woods when she was 13. He dragged her out, married her, and subjected her to a life of abuse. She later shot and killed him after a particularly brutal attack. Her story is not unique.”

When the original mine shut down in 1922, the Chickaloon had lost much of their tribal identities, cultural roles, and their relationship with the natural world. “Our environmental department is restoring traditional lands, streams, and habitats after years of resource exploitation with no foresight for future inhabitants. We still struggle to maintain a balance between the environment and economic development because we have an intimate understanding of how thoughtless resource extraction can impact our environment and its inhabitants,” Larson said. “To further complicate matters, our people have had to deal with territorial law, racism and discrimination, statehood, federal government, local government, and other laws and regulations that impact us today.”

Though the tribe has worked hard to re-unify and recover from these years of trauma, “internalized oppression, colonization, and generational trauma continue to manifest themselves today in a variety of ways among our people,” Larson said.

The tribe is addressing these issues. Chickaloon Village has the only tribally owned and operated school in Alaska, where they teach their history, culture, language, and traditional values. The health department focuses on physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually nourishing and restoring their people.

“I am sad to say we are still working to develop positive relationships within the borough, particularly with the borough assembly and with the Sutton community council,” Larson said. “Our tribe continues to suffer from racism and oppression and we fight every day to protect our environment, our culture, and our future generations.

“Our people have spent the last hundred years trying to recover from this. We are asking to be given a chance to keep our culture and our traditional way of life,” Larson said. “The mine propitiates the historical trauma through destroying our land, the blasting will scare away the moose that we eat and use in ceremony, it will pollute the stream and destroy our salmon stocks that are just finally bringing back.”

What is happening here has played out throughout Alaska. Gold, silver, copper and coal mines are located on rivers that carry tailings or wastes. Tribal communities need rivers, too, for water, sustenance, and ceremony. Where there is or was a mine there likely is, or once was, a tribal community.

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September 28, 2011

Video: Aboriginals and Other Oil Sands Opponents Explain their Position

Click here to view the embedded video.

Monday’s protest outside the House of Commons in Ottawa against the Alberta Oil Sands netted more than 100 arrests—according to Greenpeace, which helped organize the demonstration, it was closer to 200—and brought together aboriginals and environmentalists from all across Canada.

tar sands icon Video: Aboriginals and Other Oil Sands Opponents Explain their Position

In this video you will hear from Bill Erasmus, Chief of the Dene Nation, which has come out against the Northern Gateway pipeline proposed by Enbridge from the oil sands to the Pacific coast of British Columbia, and from Jackie Thomas, Chief of the Saik’uz First Nation and a leader of the Yinka Dene Alliance, which also opposes the pipeline.

“We are letting the Americans know that we do not support the Keystone XL pipeline,” Erasmus said before hundreds of protesters, pointing out that he has gone to Washington, D.C., twice this year to let the U.S. government know that.

Read more about the protest and, after you’ve watched the video, peruse some of Indian Country Today Media Network’s coverage of the Washington protests and surrounding issues, and click onto our slide show of aerial oil sands photos at right.

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October 1, 2011

Fallout Persists from Spring Floods in Manitoba

Months after spring floods have receded, some Manitoba First Nations are still displaced, leading two of them to file suit and one to request barracks housing through the winter.

The Peguis and Ebb and Flow First Nations filed lawsuits in mid-September, claiming that dislocation and other effects from last spring’s record flooding have still not been addressed. In suits filed in federal court in Winnipeg, both First Nations allege that floodwaters were diverted into Lake Manitoba to keep cities like Port La Prairie dry, but at the expense of their agricultural land, residential areas and sacred sites. The two First Nations are suing Manitoba Hydro, the federal government, the province and the Crown utility.

“These First Nations…are sick and tired of the government of Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro … flooding hundreds of thousands of acres of land without any concern whatsoever to the needs and interests of Manitoba First Nations,” Jeffrey Rath, a lawyer from Alberta who represents the First Nations, told the Canadian Press.

Hundreds of people, many of them First Nations citizens, were forced from their homes by the April flooding. Although vacation-home owners and farmers can apply for compensation from the province, First Nations do not qualify because they are the responsibility of the federal government, Rath told the Canadian Press.

But as far back as February, Peguis officials had begun to sound warnings that they were bracing for devastating flooding, based on their previous experience with heavy rains. Earlier this year, Chief Glenn Hudson said in a statement that damage from previous floods had still not been repaired. Now, Rath said, many of the reserve homes have mold problems.

“These communities have just been devastated,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lake St. Martin First Nation has asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper if its members, trapped in Winnipeg hotels since flooding forced them off their reserve in May, can winter in the vacant homes of Kapyong Base.

“Our people aren’t asking you to give them the homes,” Chief Adrian Sinclair wrote to Harper in September. “Just let us live there at Kapyong together as a community until our new community can be rebuilt on a reserve on higher ground—maybe a year.”

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October 3, 2011

Widespread Support for Gun Lake’s Trust Land

Local governments, business groups and agencies in and around Allegan County, Michigan, where the Gun Lake Tribe has its casino have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review petitions filed by the tribe and Interior Department in a case challenging the casino trust land.

More than 15 entities, including Wayland Township, Allegan County, the Allegan Area Education Service Agency, the cities of Wayland and Allegan, the Barry County Chamber of Commerce, the Barry County Economic Development Alliance, the Gun Lake Business Association, and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Michigan have filed a collective amici curiae – friend of the court – brief in the petition for certiorari filed with the high court by the Interior Department and the Match-E-Nash-E-Wish Band of Pottawatomi (the Gun Lake Tribe) Indians versus David Patchak. The high court has been asked to review a ruling issued by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last January that said Patchak, a former trustee in Wayland County, Michigan, has standing to bring a lawsuit against the Interior Department for taking into trust 147 acres in Bradley, Michigan, near Grand Rapids where the tribe operates its casino. The casino, which opened in February, created 900 new jobs and has brought a new wave of prosperity to local hotels, restaurants, vendors and other businesses in an area that had a reported 11.9 percent unemployment rate.

“Collectively, the amici curiae represent numerous individuals and businesses that support and have been positively affected by the Band’s economic development activities on the trust land. They submit this brief to explain the substantial local benefits that arise from the cooperative and mutually reinforcing economic development efforts of the Band, the regional governments, and local businesses,” the amici wrote. “The amici curiae urge this Court to grant the petitions for certiorari to resolve the debilitating uncertainty and economic instability created by the court of appeals’ decision, which threatens to stifle economic development in a state and region that has endured a disproportionate amount of economic suffering in recent years.”

The appeals court ruling reversed a federal district court decision that dismissed Patchak’s lawsuit, which he filed under the Administrative Procedure Act, claiming that the Interior secretary was not authorized to take Gun Lake’s land into trust because the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) was passed—a challenge that relies on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Carcieri v. Salazar ruling in 2009. His ultimate goal is to have the courts take away the trust status of the casino land. The district court said Patchak did not have standing to bring the lawsuit and was further barred from filing the complaint by the Quiet Title Act (QTA), which says the federal government cannot be divested of title to Indian trust lands. In its ruling, appeals court expanded the previous criteria for “standing”—the right to initiate a lawsuit—by granting Patchak prudential standing. Because the appeals court ruling was a departure from rulings in similar cases from four other circuit courts, the high court is likely to take it up,” said Matthew L.M. Fletcher, an associate professor of law and the director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law.

Fletcher was correct in another prediction that’s proven true by the amices’ widespread support for Gun Lake. Fletcher predicted that Pachak’s position was not widely held. “Wayland and its surrounding townships long have hoped for more industry and economic growth – I know, I grew up there. So it’s just one guy for all we know who doesn’t want that. He’s pretty firmly in a tiny minority,” Fletcher told Indian Country Today Media Network.

The amici argue that Gun Lake’s casino development has provided local governments with “critical resources.” Six months after opening its casino, Gun Lake contributed more than $500,000 to local governments and more than $2 million to the state, they wrote. “The consequences of allowing an individual litigant to destabilize economic and business planning are clear,” they wrote. “Local governments across the country must be able to rely on the federal government’s decision to take land into trust and the stability of the federal government’s title to the land, so that they can enter into contracts to construct improvements and undertake other important projects.”

The high court has conference days on October 7, 14, and 28 when it will decide whether to accept the Gun Lake and Interior Department petitions.

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