Published in Economic Development

Senators press Interior Dept. to issue findings on Grand River Bands’ petition for federal recognition

BY Thursday, November 18, 2021 01:00pm

GRAND RAPIDS — U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters are calling on the Department of the Interior to swiftly issue findings on the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians’ petition for federal recognition, which has been in process for 27 years. 

In a letter sent this week to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Michigan’s Democratic senators asked the department to “expedite its review of Grand River Bands petition and issue proposed findings in a timely manner.”

The Grand River Bands started the petition process for federal recognition in 1994 and its request has been under active consideration since 2013. The Office of Federal Acknowledgement suspended consideration in April 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Department of Interior’s lack of urgency in issuing a determination on federal recognition potentially hinders Grand River Bands’ ability to access vital resources such as health services for tribal members and federal grants to promote self-sufficiency. The members and leadership of the Grand River Band deserve a fair and timely determination on federal recognition,” Stabenow and Peters wrote on Nov. 15.

The letter follows similar recent calls for a decision from U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, and U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee that has jurisdiction over Indian Country.

“While the federal acknowledgment process can be lengthy even under the best circumstances, Grand River has experienced extraordinary delays without substantial explanations from the Department,” Grijalva wrote to Haaland on Nov. 5.

The tribe’s roughly 600 enrolled members have now been in limbo for 27 years while seeking federal recognition, which unlocks resources such as tuition, health care and housing assistance.

“If I can do anything before I leave, I’ll get our tribe recognized,” tribal Chairman Ronald Yob told MiBiz in a report in July. 

Yob is a direct descendent of Chief Maish-Ke-Aw-She, who was a signatory of the 1855 Treaty of Detroit. Yob has led the tribe’s federal recognition effort for years to ensure future generations never have to go through a similar process.

“It was the intentions of our ancestors with the treaties to provide ways for us to continue our means of living, and that’s what I am trying to do,” Yob said earlier this year. “I’m trying to set some kind of foundation from this time period so that the next generation is going to find it a little bit easier than we had found it.”

Tribes have three paths to federal recognition: via the federal legislative process, the federal courts or by meeting seven criteria considered by the Office of Federal Acknowledgement, a division of the Department of the Interior. 

A previous legislative effort to recognize the Grand River Bands — mirroring a process taken in the 1994 by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians — stalled in the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in 2007. 

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