Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Challenges. Discussion »
WASHINGTON - The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish of Pottawatomi, most commonly known as the Gun Lake Tribe, is a small tribe in terms of tribal citizens, but strong in terms of resiliency and stamina.
For some ten years, the Gun Lake Tribe worked to open its casino to provide economic development for its tribal economy. Seemingly, at every turn, the Gun Lake Tribe had to fight court case after court case to have the land where their casino sits put into trust so that they could open.
Earlier this year on February 10, the Tribe opened the Gun Lake Casino, located half along US 131 between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo in West Michigan. In a downturned Michigan economy, which is one of the worst in the country, the casino opened to large crowds and huge business. Initially, the Gun Lake Casino employed 700 employees. Within weeks, the casino had to bring its workforce up to 800 employees.
Yesterday, in yet another court case, the US Supreme Court decided to hear two petitions pending for writ of certiorari known as Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band v. Patchak, David and Salazar, Sec. of Interior v. Patchak, David.
This case has national implications for American Indian tribes in the United States.
The case was brought by David Patchak, a former Wayland Township trustee, to challenge how the US Department of Interior placed the land in trust citing the 2009 US Supreme Court Carcieri Decision that determined that the term "now under Federal jurisdiction" referred to American Indian tribes that were federally recognized when the Indian Reorganization Act became law.
Further, the Court held that the federal government could not take land into trust from tribes that were recognized after 1934.
Over 800 Employees
The Gun Lake Tribe became a federally recognized tribe on August 23, 1999.
A US District Court in Washington threw the case out, but the US Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit reversed the lower court's decision and said it could move forward.
"We appreciate the Court's willingness to hear our case," said D.K. Sprague, chairman of the Gun Lake Tribe in response to hearing that the Supreme Court will be hearing the case.
"I think it bodes well for the Gun Lake Band. Once the Supreme Court actually accepts a case for review, which it does only three to four percent of the time, the Court reverses the lower court decision about 70 percent of the time," Matthew Fletcher, Ottawa, Associate Professor, at Michigan State University's College of Law and director of MSU Indigenous Law Center. "Moreover, the issues strongly favor the tribe. The sovereign immunity of the federal government is at issue, and since the government favors the tribe here, that issue favors the tribe as well."
"It's a big case. If the lower court decision holds, then pretty much anyone could challenge the Department of Interior's decision to take land into trust for Indian tribes, even after the land is in trust," continued Fletcher.
With yesterday's announcement, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments next year.
updated 2:10 pm est; posted December 13, 2011 9:30 am est
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