2017-02-02 / News

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Mackinac Tribe Case

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear the case of a local Native American group seeking federal recognition, but officials with the Mackinac Tribal Nation hold out hope that other avenues will be found to achieve their goals. They are particularly interested in cultural recognition and treaty hunting and fishing rights.

The Mackinac Tribal Nation, encompassing the Mackinac Tribe of Odawa and Ojibwa Indians and the Mackinac Band of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, was turned down January 9 by the U.S. Supreme Court for the right to file a request with the Secretary of the Interior to call for an election to adopt a constitution. The tribe’s lawsuit would have resulted in federal recognition to the coalition government as the “Mackinac Tribal Nation,” according to tribal spokesman Darrin Ranguette.

This does not mean that the people who call themselves the Mackinac will not gain federal recognition, only that this is not the appropriate route to achieve it, Darryl Brown of St. Ignace told The St. Ignace News Wednesday, January 25. The lawsuit, he said, was all about determining which process would be best to reach the goal. As a result of the Supreme Court’s denial to hear the case, the tribe’s litigation committee has been dissolved and new options will be considered in the future.

The group is seeking recognition as a tribal nation, bringing together several smaller tribal bands. No band can claim another band without their consent, Mr. Ranguette pointed out, but related bands could agree to be recognized together as a tribe.

The January 9 decision was disappointing, Mr. Brown said, but since the court hears only about 5% of the cases that seek its attention, the odds for any one case getting through are not that good. The court’s denial is not the end of the road for this effort.

“We thought we had a pretty good shot, because they sometimes give preference to treaty violations,” Mr. Brown said of the Supreme Court appeal, “but in this case, they did not. They didn’t close the door, or deny us as a tribe, but they denied us that particular process. They do recognize us as a historical group.”

This group of Native Americans has been seeking recognition as the oldest and largest historical Indian nation in Michigan. It is their contention that their ancestors signed a treaty with the U.S. Government in 1855 that gave them treaty recognition as Ottawa, or Odawa. They have petitioned the government for federal recognition, but were rejected by the Department of the Interior to hold a secretarial election under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Mackinac appealed the decision. An appellate court upheld the first ruling, and the Mackinac then petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the case.

Indian Law attorney Mike Walleri, who the tribal spokesmen say has had experience in the recognition process in similar cases, and who filed the case with the Supreme Court October 21, 2016, noted that the Mackinac Odawa was officially recognized when the U.S. government signed a treaty with the ancestors of the group in 1855. At that time, he pointed out, the Mackinac were recognized and areas across primarily the southern half of the Eastern Upper Peninsula were set aside for them as reservation lands. No band can claim another band, he noted, and since there are at least five and perhaps seven bands, there has, to date, been no officially recognized tribe. Over the years, the group says, many members of the Mackinac were incorporated into various other Michigan tribes. Some have been unable to become enrolled in any tribe.

“We’ve never wanted to be a casino tribe or a welfare tribe,” said Mr. Brown Wednesday. “We’re more interested in treaty rights and cultural recognition, such as hunting and fishing rights and things like the ability to possess eagle feathers, for example. And, also, perhaps rights to federal health care programs. The litigation committee was a good faith effort. We did our job to try to see it through and wish there had been a better result. Other future options may be test cases. Now that we’re out from under this case, we can start to pursue other options.”

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