Michigan

The Trail of Fears

Cheryl Lynch, Founder, CPR
New Buffalo, MI
March 31, 2005
Published in the Harbor Country News, New Buffalo, MI,

The morally upstanding and reasoning people of Harbor Country can take heart! Placement of a federally granted Indian casino here is not a certainty.

The decision to introduce gambling into our community was not approved by a local vote. We still do have a right to determine our community’s character and do not have to succumb to the federal government’s America-busting race-based initiatives.

Rise, my fellow citizens, and join us in taking back our individual rights, plus our state’s rights! America-loving people are gathering in Washington, DC this Spring. Citizens and high-ranking elected officials from around the nation are spearheading the end of Federal Indian Policy (FIP). If you are also compelled to take action, contact our organization, CPR, via the website www.CitizensforPersonalResponsibility.org.

Much has been learned about this debacle in the past eight years. Had our local officials here in New Buffalo known what had been happening around the country due to FIP, they would not have rushed headlong into acquiescing to the strong-arm tactics of a “taking” by the federal government.

This article is also intended to inspire some of Harbor Country’s part-time residents who have connections to media resources, so that this tragedy ~ this Trail of Fears ~ will get the full national exposure that it warrants.

Our federal government has become so centralized, that it has easily fallen prey to the corrupting power of radical leaders, groupthink, and graft of gambling interests. The White House is well aware of the double tragedy fostered by FIP, confiscating the rights of both Indian tribal members plus other cultures of Americans, along with their states’ governments. Yet the Bush Administration remains indifferent about the duty of heading off this domestic crisis!

The tragedy of the tribal members caught up in the Red Lake Reservation shooting, for instance, has yet to be understood by the general public. Last week, Americans got a rare glimpse of life on a “closed” Indian reservation. Radical Indian activists fear that the secrets of reservation life will now come to light.

Americans would be shocked to know that the FBI documented long ago that Indian children living on reservations routinely suffer from child-neglect, depression, substance abuse and violent deaths! Their lives and their future success in the world are being sacrificed, all for the acquisition of land and power craved by Indian radicals and the profligates within our federal government.

As citizen patriots, we must learn to stop being intimidated by propagandist notions that Americans are obligated to single out and promote one ethnic culture over another. In this 229th year of the greatest country on earth, haven’t we taxpayers repaired and extolled the Indians and their culture long enough?

Recommended reading for a balanced historical accounting of the relationship between the Indians and our government, from America’s beginnings to the present day, is encapsulated in the book, “The Second Civil War, Examining the Indian Demand For Ethnic Sovereignty” by David Price. It will restore your confidence that Americans never held the intention of committing genocide against Indians. And there are no outstanding obligations to them as tribes, especially when factoring in the millions of dollars that have been spent every year on special benefits. You’ll also learn about the violent and destructive actions of radical Indian activists during the 1960s. They later took advantage of Richard Nixon’s foibles, resulting in a Presidential Order that created the extra-constitutional status that tribal leaders now hold over their own tribal members and us ‘poor non-Indians.’

The Poor Congress has been duped into duplicating every department of the federal government, merely to enforce its farcical government-to-government relationship with Indian tribal “nations.” In fact, FIP must be constantly adapted to the changing moods of each tribal nation, because the Indians themselves aren’t bonded together in their desires. It’s a complex task for Congress to even set a rudimentary budget for that. The process is further complicated by the fact that Indian governments are constantly increasing in number and are scattered from coast to coast. As of this writing, there are upwards of 562 such governments in America.

Unbelievably, Congress will soon be voting on overlaying the same race-based, multiple native-only governments onto the constitutionally created government of America’s Island Paradise. The “Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2005,”sponsored by Senator Daniel Akaka (D), requests ‘parity’ with mainland Indians.

Since Paradise is already physically detached from the continental United States, Hawaiian activists would then have a better shot at their real goal. They dream of secession from the U.S. Just consider the motto they’ve coined: “Last Star On, First Star Off!” But they don’t mind first enjoying the federal funding that accompanies federal recognition of native status. Mainland Indian activists share the goal of secession with their fellow “indigenous peoples,” but don’t offer to share federal entitlements. Tex Hall, chairman of the National Congress of American Indians, worked with Sen. John McCain (R) to so amend the Akaka Bill before it left his Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

It goes without saying that Americans around the country adversely affected by the infringement on their own land rights, resource rights, cultural rights, etc., have had to launch countless, expensive and emotionally exasperating lawsuits. By far the most convoluted lawsuits have been those in New York State and the New England states. That is where Indian activists and cunning lawyers perfected Federal Indian Policy and then slipped its enactment through Congress. But the day of reckoning has arrived. The Supreme Court is now deliberating on what is being characterized as the beginning-of-the-end of FIP.

The ruling on “City of Sherrill (NY) v. Oneida Indian Nation” is expected near the date of our attack on FIP in Washington, DC, when the country’s most educated minds on this subject will converge.

Sault Chippewa Tribal Leadership Stifles Dissent

Tribe’s Board Curbs Critics, Closes Forums, Defends Record in Ads.
By Melvin Claxton and Mark Puls, The Detroit News
Decemeber 12, 2001

SAULT STE. MARIE — Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa tribal leaders, in response to a Nov. 11 Detroit News series of stories about their shortcomings, have begun a media campaign to defend their record and have taken steps to stifle dissent.
The campaign — which includes a series of meetings with constituents, media interviews and half-page newspaper display ads — followed revelations in The News that the tribe’s 12-member governing board and its chairman hid million-dollar deals from tribal members, gave themselves large retroactive salary increases and created high-paying second jobs in the tribe for fellow board members.

Tribal chairman Bernard Bouschor has hosted meetings in each of the tribe’s five voting districts. He has barred the media from these meetings and limited tribal members to three written questions. He has refused to take follow-up questions or allow any discussion, according to several tribal members.

Sault member Patty Chambers said when she demanded that Bouschor answer her question about recent pay raises for himself and the tribe’s governing board, the chairman threatened to have her arrested and removed from the meeting. She said a tribal police officer tried to escort her out of the building but backed down when several other members present said he would have to remove them, too.

“My civil rights were clearly violated,” Chambers said. “That building is on tribal land and Bouschor makes all the rules.”

Tribal spokesman John Hatch declined to comment on events at the closed meetings.

The New’s series showed how the power granted the 52-year-old Bouschor as the head of a tribal government far exceed that of most elected officials.

With no independent court, police, auditors or justice department within the tribe to answer to, he has amassed substantial economic and political clout over all tribal operations, including the tribe’s six casinos that generated $175 million in revenues last year.

Bouschor has used this unfettered power to keep tribal members in the dark about his financial dealings, co-opted fellow board members and compensated himself well.

Tribal leaders have cemented their hold on power by passing restrictive laws that prevent more than two-thirds of the tribe’s membership from running for office.

They also gave themselves a 33-percent annual raise in 2000 at the same time they were considering a cost-cutting package that included layoffs at the tribe’s businesses. The raises were retroactive going back five years.

Closed meetings
Sault Chippewa leaders blocked the media and all but tribal members from attending their recent community forums.
Scott Brand, a reporter for the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News, attempted to cover the meeting but wasn’t allowed.

He reported on the incident in the Evening News: “In an ironic twist, the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians Board of Directors unanimously chose to shut out the general public in a special open forum, billed as a “community gathering” Tuesday evening, as the body attempts to rebuild credibility in the wake of a Nov. 11 series of articles in The Detroit News,” Brand wrote in a newspaper article.

“The meeting, which had originally been billed as open to the public, was set to address these allegations.

“In making his introductory comments, Chairman Bernard Bouschor said he would entertain a motion to exclude anyone in the audience who was not either a member of Unit I or a staff member with the Sault Tribe. Trustee Fred Paquin immediately made the motion which was promptly seconded by Trustee Martha Miller. The unanimous vote — instituting the new exclusionary criteria — effectively excluded a handful of people in attendance, including a reporter from The Evening News who had been assigned to cover the “community meeting.”

Newspaper ads
Tribal leaders have responded to the articles by placing half-page ads in at least four Michigan newspapers, including The Detroit News.
The ad campaign, with a tab of about $30,000 so far, isn’t costing board members or Bouschor a penny of their own money. Sault Chippewa leaders are paying for the ads from the tribe’s coffers, Hatch confirmed.

That has angered tribal member Terry Barr, who criticized Bouschor for using tribal funds to pay for ads to defend his record.

“It doesn’t seem right,” Barr said. “If he has caused problems for himself, he should pay for the ads. That’s not what the tribal money is meant for. But this is typical of the way he handles the tribe’s money.”

Sault Chippewa leaders say their intention is to get the truth out about their record and accomplishments. But some tribal members say the ads are a continuation of an effort by tribal leaders to mask problems with the way they run the tribe.

“This is exactly what we have been telling people for years” said tribal member Tom Bruning. “Bouschor and board members use any means, including propaganda and misrepresentations, to stay in power. What The Detroit News wrote was the truth, but these guys can’t handle it because they have always had control over the press.”

The ads and media campaign are not the first attempt by tribal leaders to blunt the impact of the newspaper’s report. Even before the articles were published, Bouschor attempted to head off potential criticism of his leadership by using the tribe-owned newspaper to attack the then unpublished stories.

Tribal Members See Little Benefit From Casinos

Associated Press
November 27, 2001

DETROIT — The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians has built a $250-million-a-year financial empire out of casino profits, but critics claim the money is being squandered by tribal leaders and not making it to the members who need it most.

The tribe’s 29,000 members have no control over how the money is spent, are unable to hold their leaders accountable and see little in tribe-funded services, the Detroit News reported.

Unlike other casino-rich tribes, the Sault Chippewa has no profit-sharing plan for members, and many of its services are federally subsidized.

Revenues from Detroit’s Greektown Casino and five other Sault Chippewa casinos in the Upper Peninsula are controlled by a 13-member board, led by Chairman Bernard Bouschor.

The powers granted the 52-year-old Bouschor as the head of a tribal government far exceed that of most elected officials. With no independent court, police, auditors or justice department within the tribe to answer to, he has amassed incredible economic and political clout.

Civil rights and legal recourses taken for granted by many Americans are often nonexistent on reservations, where tribal leaders control everything.

Bouschor makes $100,000 a year as tribal chairman and CEO. He gets another $167,000 as the tribe’s chief operating officer for casino operations.

The chairman’s benefits are in sharp contrast with those of the people he serves. For most tribal members, the personal benefits from the tribe’s newfound wealth have been few.

Fifteen years after the tribe opened its first casino, the majority of its members still qualify for some kind of federal assistance. There is no profit-sharing plan for distributing casino revenues to members, unlike the Saginaw Chippewas in Mount Pleasant whose adult members get $52,000 a year from their tribe.

“The people living on the reservation have nothing,” said Verna Lawrence, a former board member ousted in 1977. “The government owns the land that their houses sit on. If you don’t own the land, you don’t own anything. The tribal leaders like to keep the Indian people poor or they wouldn’t get federal funds.”

Sault leaders say they decided more than a decade ago to use casino revenues to build a diversified economy and pay for social services, not create a welfare state.

“We didn’t want people waiting for handouts,” said tribal spokesman John Hatch. “We wanted to help educate our members and create opportunities for people to get jobs.”

Bouschor said the tribe’s financial books are open to any tribal members who visited tribal offices.

“When individuals ask for information we provide as best we can,” Bouschor said. “Obviously, it may not suit what they think is appropriate or enough.”

The tribe now employs close to 7,000 people, nearly 2,900 of them in the Upper Peninsula. It has built five health clinics, a two-hockey-rink recreation center, a state-of-art elementary school and several housing developments.

The tribe also helps fund funerals, provides college scholarships and gives elders a $100-a-month stipend.

But by the tribe’s own accounting, much of the money for the services comes from federal and state funds, not business or casino profits. After paying operating costs and debts for its businesses, only $30 million of the tribe’s revenues actually go to run the government and provide services for members.

By contrast, the tribe got $75 million from federal programs, state funding, land trust payments and other outside sources, Hatch confirmed.

Report: Tribe Members See Little Benefit from Casino Revenues

The Associated Press
September 11, 2001

 

DETROIT (AP) — The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians has built a $250-million-a-year financial empire out of casino profits, but critics
claim the money is being squandered by tribal leaders and not making it to the members who need it most. The tribe’s 29,000 members have no control over how the money is spent, are unable to hold their leaders accountable and see little in tribe-funded services, The Detroit News reported in a Sunday story.

Unlike other casino-rich tribes, the Sault Chippewa has no profit-sharing plan for members, and many of its services are federally subsidized. Revenues from Detroit’s Greektown Casino and five other Sault Chippewa casinos in the Upper Peninsula are controlled by a 13-member board, led by chairman Bernard Bouschor.

The powers granted the 52-year-old Bouschor as the head of a tribal government far exceed that of most elected officials. With no independent
court, police, auditors or justice department within the tribe to answer to, he has amassed incredible economic and political clout.

Civil rights and legal recourses taken for granted by many Americans are often nonexistent on reservations, where tribal leaders control everything.
Bouschor makes $100,000 a year as tribal chairman and CEO. He gets another $167,000 as the tribe’s chief operating officer for casino operations.
The chairman’s benefits are in sharp contrast with those of the people he serves. For most tribal members, the personal benefits from the tribes
newfound wealth have been few.

Fifteen years after the tribe opened its first casino, the majority of its members still qualify for some kind of federal assistance. There is no profit-sharing plan for distributing casino revenues to members, unlike the Saginaw Chippewas in Mount Pleasant whose adult members get $52,000 a year from their tribe.

“The people living on the reservation have nothing,” said Verna Lawrence, a former board member ousted in 1977. “The government owns the land that their houses sit on. If you don’t own the land, you don’t own anything. The tribal leaders like to keep the Indian people poor or they wouldn’t get federal funds.”

Sault leaders say they decided more than a decade ago to use casino revenues to build a diversified economy and pay for social services, not create a welfare state.

“We didn’t want people waiting for handouts,” said tribal spokesman John Hatch. “We wanted to help educate our members and create opportunities for people to get jobs.”

Bouschor said the tribe’s financial books are open to any tribal members who visited tribal offices. “When individuals ask for information we provide as best we can,” Bouschor said. “Obviously, it may not suit what they think is appropriate or enough.”

The tribe now employs close to 7,000 people, nearly 2,900 of them in the Upper Peninsula. It has built five health clinics, a two-hockey-rink
recreation center, a state-of-art elementary school and several housing developments. The tribe also helps fund funerals, provides college scholarships and gives elders a $100-a-month stipend.

But by the tribe’s own accounting, much of the money for the services comes from federal and state funds, not business or casino profits. After paying operating costs and debts for its businesses, only $30 million of the tribes revenues actually go to run the government and provide services for members. By contrast, the tribe got $75 million from federal programs, state funding, land trust payments and other outside sources, Hatch confirmed.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Federal Laws Abet Tribal Squabbles

By Robert H. Ball, Special to The Detroit News
August 24, 2001

Regarding the Aug. 5 article (“Power grab, money spur tribal expulsions”), I would suggest The News’ sympathy is misguided. If they feel strongly about Native American issues, there are more interesting and productive areas to explore.

This “power struggle” is merely a membership dispute in what amounts to a social club and should be of no importance to the general population. The larger question is why such social organizations exist and at what taxpayer expense.
I have more than a little bit of experience with the Indian issue and several of the court cases that have led us to where we are today. Part of my job before I retired from the Department of Natural Resources was to check the genealogies of persons claiming Indian descent.

From my experience, I can tell you that there are probably no Michigan-born Indians that are of 100 percent Indian blood. Very few of the older folks would be 50 percent. Even fewer, if any, of the younger generation would qualify as members if held to the 25 percent level and required to present absolute proof to an impartial examiner. I would suspect that most or all of the people running the Mt. Pleasant Chippewa tribe would fall below the 25 percent level if properly examined.

Part of the trouble in determining blood quantum for tribal membership is that the process and proofs are not open to public scrutiny, although they should be. Public tax dollars (through the administration of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) are involved in this. But it is in the tribes’ interest, and that of the BIA, to perpetuate Indian membership and organizations. If there are no more “legal” Indians, there would be no use for the BIA and its army of bureaucrats.

Proving or disproving Indian descent is not the mysterious or nebulous process The News implies. I find it interesting that, according to The News, the Durant Roll of 1910 is not among the documents used by the Mt. Pleasant Chippewa to prove Indian descent. In that roll, there was a census of every Indian in the state. The census was then reviewed for “full-bloodedness.” As I remember, the Indians themselves removed more than half the people enumerated. For those with English or French surnames, that would imply there was an Indian/white marriage somewhere along the line, which reduced their lineage quantum to at least 50 percent.

The Indians were granted U.S. citizenship status in the 1920s. During the social revolution of the 1930s, the Indian Reorganization Act was passed, and the tribes started to form their current associations. The BIA subsequently started to re-recognize these associations as “sovereign” governmental units or nations. It was to the bureaucracy’s advantage to perpetuate this myth because it added to the power the agency wielded. Most of the recognized “tribes” in Michigan today were merely bands of a larger tribe. But to a bureaucrat, numbers count.

Why are we continuing to put up with this figment/myth of sovereignty?
Our government should abrogate the treaties, deed all Indian land to the individuals and tribal corporations, and let them fend for themselves like other citizens.

The writer is a retired Michigan Department of Natural Resources employee.

Chippewas Kick Out Dead

The Move Threatens Their Descendants with Expulsion from Tribe, Loss of Benefits
By Melvin Claxton and Mark Puls, The Detroit News
August 16, 200

MT. PLEASANT — Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribal leaders Wednesday expelled at least three people — all deceased. Their expulsion clears the way for more than 50 of their relatives to be expelled.

“This is crazy, what this council is doing,” said Bill Snowden, whose deceased mother was expelled. “They are expelling people who belong in the tribe, and they don’t care if they are dead or alive.”

The expulsions are the latest development in an ugly struggle over a plan by tribal leaders to expel more than 10 percent of the tribe’s 2,700 members.

At stake in this bitter conflict over tribal membership is billions in casino revenues and control of the tribe.

The expulsions would cement the tribal leadership’s control over the tribe and its highly profitable Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant, the top-grossing Indian casino in Michigan and the fifth-largest in the country.

Chippewas threatened with expulsion stand to lose their share of a vast financial empire. As equal shareholders in the tribe’s $1.2-billion business portfolio, each tribal member has a net worth of more than $400,000 -10 times that of half of all American households.

Tribal members 18 years and older get $52,000 a year – children get $13,000 – from casino profits. For many, this money is their sole source of income.

If 10 percent of the tribe is expelled, the more than $10 million they now get annually from casino profits would be used to fund services for the remaining tribal members, including the leaders behind the expulsion effort.

Tribal leaders defend the expulsions, saying they are only weeding out those who are not true members of the tribe. “Disenrollment is a very difficult process for all involved, said tribal chief Phil Peters. “However, we have a duty to follow the constitution of our tribe and our priority is to protect the true members.”

Saginaw Chippewas Indians being expelled have called for a congressional inquiry into the issue.

In a related matter, a number of Chippewas are calling for an independent tribal prosecutor to probe charges that chief Peters and his daughter were wrongly admitted into the tribe.

They want an independent prosecutor to probe whether Peters and his daughter broke tribal law when they enrolled in the tribe more than a decade ago.

The pleas for the investigations followed a Detroit News two-day series that highlighted serious problems with the expulsion effort. The News’ stories also focused on the questionable way in which Peters – the most powerful man in the tribe – and his daughter obtained their membership.

Generations affected

Despite protest and calls for restraint, tribal leaders have moved ahead with the expulsions. Snowden and his four sons received notice Tuesday that Snowden’s deceased mother, Mary, was officially expelled from the tribe. Her expulsion means that Snowden and his sons will almost certainly be expelled, too.

Malinda Hinmon is one of the deceased Chippewas who has been expelled. Hinmon is the mother of former tribal Court Chief Judge Bruce Hinmon, who was fired by the current leaders two years ago for issuing a ruling he said they didn’t like. Bruce Hinmon and his siblings, who traced their membership in the tribe through their mother, also face expulsion.

“I think it is totally unfair that they attacked my dead mother and she has no way to defend their birthright,” said Bruce Hinmon.”I am greatly angry that this is going to affect my children and their birthright as tribal members.”

There may be another casualty in the membership struggle. Alvin Chamberlain, father of former tribal chief Kevin Chamberlain, was fired from his job at the Soaring Eagle Casino this week. His dismissal came just days after he and about 50 other members of the tribe called for the suspension of tribal leader Peters at a tribal council meeting.

Last week, Chamberlain and others formally asked the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Council to suspend Chief Peters, pending an investigation into how he and his daughter were admitted into the tribe. Peters and at least three other council members walked out of the meeting.

The News revealed that Peters’ application for membership was approved, processed and certified by his relatives and that the ancestors he uses to prove he is Chippewa may be Ottawa-Pottawatomie.

There are also questions as to whether Peters’ daughter, Angela Mitchell, is really his biological daughter and therefore not entitled to the $91,000 a year she and her three children get as their share of casino revenues.

The council cut short its monthly meeting without taking action on the request for an independent counsel to investigate Peters. But tribal leaders indicated little support for the idea.

Seeking federal help

Several Saginaw Chippewas targeted for expulsion met with U.S. Rep. Congressman Dave Camp (R-Midland) last week. Others traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and congressional staff from around the country.

The group wants Congress to intervene to fix the tribe’s constitution, which gives tribal leaders sweeping powers to revoke the membership of legitimate descendants of the tribe. Congressional action is justified, the group argues, because the federal government helped create the problems when it set up the reservation government in the 1930s.

But those seeking federal action got little good news. Camp told the tribal members they should meet with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Those meeting with the bureau were told they should meet with their congressman.

Camp said there isn’t much he can do to stop the expulsions. And bureau officials said their power over tribal membership matters is limited. Those facing expulsion said the federal government should correct its errors in setting up the reservation governments.

“This is a failed trust,” said Ben Hinmon, a former tribal council member whose family faces expulsion “The federal government has a responsibility to correct its historical mistakes, and amend the restrictive membership requirements.”

Tribe Accused of Purging Dissent for Casino Dollars

By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
August 7,  2001

The casino trade has been good to the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, turning its once struggling reservation in central Michigan into a billion-dollar business venture.

However, it has also sparked a bitter fight between the tribal leadership and a hard core of dissidents, who say they are being thrown out of the tribe for political reasons and cut out of the financial windfall that could have provided for them and their offspring in perpetuity.

Greed, corruption, personal vendetta – these are the terms being used as the 2,700-odd residents of the Isabella reservation rip each other to shreds in public.

The dispute has come to a head in the past few days as the Detroit News has published a scathing series of articles accusing the Saginaw Chippewa leadership of purging 10 per cent of its membership.

In theory, the expulsions have been prompted by a renewed examination of much-contested tribal rolls to see who is a legitimate Chippewa and who is not.

The newspaper said the criteria for expulsion were being decided almost exclusively by the tribal chief, Phil Peters, and three fellow-members of an executive leadership committee.

According to the reports, the fruit of two months’ investigation into tribal affairs, claims of legitimate membership were being ignored in favour of political and personal considerations.

One self-proclaimed dissident, Don Otto, told the paper about his impending expulsion hearing before the committee: “I don’t expect a fair hearing because there hasn’t been a fair hearing yet. They are not after the truth; they’re just trying to get rid of us so that they can have more money for themselves. It’s that simple.”

The Detroit News said that of the first 20 letters sent out threatening expulsion, five were received by known dissidents who have either criticised the leadership in public or announced plans to run against them in elections in November. Mr Otto, for one, has documentation proving his Chippewa lineage going back to the middle of the 19th century, the paper claimed.

At the same time, the newspaper questioned whether Mr Peters was a true Chippewa, pointing out that it took him six years to gain admission when he first applied in the 1980s.

Yesterday, tribal spokesman Frank Coultier dismissed the newspaper reports as a partisan attack relying on the opinions of tribal members with known grudges against the leadership. “These people have gone to the media because they understand their argument is weak at best,” he said.

Mr Coultier pointed out that a clean-up of the membership rolls was long overdue. And he defended the tribe’s right to conduct its affairs as it saw fit.

Whoever is right, the dispute highlights the passions ignited by the arrival of sudden wealth on reservations that have languished in poverty for generations. The Chippewas now give each adult member $52,000 (£37,000) a year and each child $13,000, as well as free health care and other benefits. The average net worth of tribal members is now 10 times the national average.

State, Tribes Happy with Agreement New Resolution Should Benefit Indians, Anglers

by Eric Sharp, Free Press Outdoors Writer
August 17, 2000

TRAVERSE CITY — Things looked grim. After months of seven-day-a-week bargaining, everyone involved was physically exhausted and emotionally spent. Yet it seemed that efforts to negotiate a new fishing agreement between Michigan and five of its American Indian tribes were doomed to failure.

Related Content

With treaty, all things weren’t equal at signing

The new fishing agreement

It appeared the only solution was another court-ordered settlement that left both sides feeling cheated and angry and failed to achieve the primary goals of protecting the Great Lakes fisheries and rehabilitating lake trout schools decimated by two centuries of overfishing, pollution and lamprey eel attacks.

But when the break came, things moved with a rush. State officials, anglers and the leaders of most of the Indian tribes say that the agreement signed last week offers the tribes economic incentives to stop taking sport fish like lake trout and salmon and gives anglers the prospect of catching more and bigger lake trout, perch and walleyes.

Gerald Chinqwa, tribal chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odowa Indians, said, “Even up to a few weeks ago, there was some screaming that could have scuttled the whole deal. Eventually, everyone realized that courts weren’t the answer.”

The new agreement replaces a 1985 court order, and participants said the keys to success were:

A decision by white commercial fishermen on Lake Michigan that their days were numbered, and this would be a good chance to sell out to the Indians.

A decision by Gov. John Engler to use a casino as a bargaining chip.

A decision by the tribes to avoid a scorched-earth legal battle that could paint them as environmental destroyers.

A decision by DNR director K. L. Cool to draw a line in the sand and force the tribes to negotiate or face off in courts that are less friendly to absolutist solutions than they were a decade ago.

Brandon Schroeder, who represented sport anglers through the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said, “I give a lot of credit to the DNR, the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office. They came up with the key elements — money to purchase trap net boats, money for the white licensees to train Indian fishermen to use the trap gear, and money for enforcement.

“We’re now getting out of the idea of fishing by zones and managing the whole of each lake as a single entity. Before, we told the Indians, ‘You stay up in your area, and you figure out how to control lake trout mortality.’ But that still impacted the sport fishery in other areas. I think that this eventually will put all of the big gill net operations out of business. And is that worth $17 million of state money? I think so.”

The 20-year agreement was signed by the state and five tribes at Sault Ste. Marie and Bay Mills (in the Upper Peninsula), Grand Traverse Bay (at Leland), Little Traverse Bay (at Harbor Springs) and Little River (at Manistee).

At the heart of the dispute is a treaty that the state signed with the ancestors of these northern Michigan Indians in 1836 to achieve statehood. In that document, the tribes gave up claims to land ownership, but they kept their hunting and fishing rights. When Indian commercial fishermen began impacting sports anglers seeking salmon and lake trout about 40 years ago, the state decided it would regulate Indian fishing. The Indians told the state to take a hike, gaining enormous bargaining strength in 1979 when a federal court ruled that the Indian treaty must stand as written, a decision that only intensified the squabbling between the state and Indians.

The agreement signed last week is long and complex, but the breakthrough was an offer last November by non-Indian commercial fishermen at Bay de Noc to sell out their operations to the Indians. This would let the tribes land two to three million more pounds of whitefish a year in exchange for reducing the lake trout take.

This was especially interesting to the Soo tribe, whose 67 fishermen take about 60 percent of the Indian commercial harvest. When the state agreed to put up $17 million ($12.5 million to buy the Bay de Noc trap net operations and turn them over to the Indians), the Bay Mills and Little River tribes came on board. Little River is a new tribe without established commercial fishers, but the deal included $1.925 million for the Little River Band, which it probably will use to get members started in charter boat operations.

The Little Traverse Bay Band soon came aboard, leaving the Grand Traverse Band as the final holdouts.

Members of the Grand Traverse Band said Gov. Engler threatened to hold up state approval for the Turtle Creek Casino near Traverse City, whose license is in dispute. Engler’s office denied that, but the governor did send a letter to the tribe saying the state would not open talks on the casino issue until the fishing dispute was settled. And since the state was willing to go to the U.S. Supreme Court on the fishing question, that might take years.

With the four other tribes, the state and the federal government prepared to go to the federal court in agreement on the fishing accord and paint the Grand Traverse Band as unreasonable holdouts, the Grand Traverse tribe decided to cut its losses and accept the inevitable.

Chinqwa, the tribal chairman, said many whites fail to realize the cultural importance that fishing has for the Indians, even at a time when casinos, golf courses and other commercial interests make fishing less important economically.

“We wouldn’t be putting this much effort in if we didn’t think that (Indian fishermen) were going to be around for generations,” he said. “What we have done with this agreement is protect a birthright for our tribal members.”

One of the most important figures in reaching the agreement was Jim Jennetta, senior staff attorney for the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewas, with 30,000 members the biggest group involved on the Indian side.

“The tribes knew a scorched-earth litigation policy still leaves you living among your neighbors. That’s not good, especially if you’re in the hospitality (gambling) industry,” said Jennetta, who first began litigating treaty fishing rights for the Bay Mills tribe in 1974. “The parties in this case did something by negotiating that the court could not have ordered on its own hook. The fulfillment of the promise to work together is to me the most important thing.”