Advance Notice: Briefs

House resolution urges feds to recognize Odawa tribe in West Michigan

By: - March 3, 2022 5:43 pm

Grand River | Susan J. Demas

A new House resolution urges federal recognition of an Anishinaabek tribe in West Michigan, bolstering a multi-decade struggle by the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians (GRB) to become the state’s 13th federally recognized sovereign tribal nation.

House Resolution (HR) 246 was introduced Thursday by state Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids). It states that the GRB, which was recognized as a historic Native American tribe by the state of Michigan in 1996, is also eligible for federal recognition and should be promptly granted the designation.

“We want to thank Rep. LaGrand for introducing this important resolution, and we hope the full Legislature will add its voice to our mission to achieve federal recognition,” said Ron Yob, chairman of the Grand River Bands. 

“For too long, the lack of recognition has unjustly and unfairly deprived our tribal members of key resources such as health care and educational opportunities which are afforded to federally recognized tribes. We continue to urge federal officials to approve our petition as soon as possible,” Yob continued.

The GRB originally encompassed 19 Ottawa bands and now has about 600 enrolled members. It is based along waterways including the Grand River in present-day West Michigan. Most tribal citizens reside in Kent, Oceana and Muskegon counties.

The tribe has been working to attain federally-recognized status for about 30 years. In 2013, their petition to the U.S. Department of Interior was moved to the “active consideration” list, but it has not moved from there since. The COVID-19 pandemic has further delayed consideration.

The department is now led by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the federal government’s first Indigenous cabinet member.

For too long, the lack of recognition has unjustly and unfairly deprived our tribal members of key resources such as health care and educational opportunities which are afforded to federally recognized tribes.

– Ron Yob, chairman of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians

LaGrand’s resolution is not the first action by a lawmaker to assist the GRB in its long-fought bid to gain federal status. In November, two members of Congress and Michigan’s two U.S. senators also urged the Interior Department  to make an expedited decision.

State recognition provides some benefits to tribes, but they are limited. Federally-recognized tribes are acknowledged as sovereign nations within states and are allocated with funds for resources including health care, tuition, housing assistance and more.

The 12 tribes in Michigan currently recognized by the federal government are the Bay Mills Indian Community (BMIC), Grand Traverse Bay of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Hannahville Indian Community, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe), Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

In addition to the GRB, other state-recognized tribes that continue to seek federal recognition include: the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, also known as the Cheboiganing Band, located in Northern Michigan’s Burt Lake area (mostly Emmet and Cheboygan counties); the Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, based in St. Ignace; and the Swan Creek Black River Confederated Ojibwa Tribes of Michigan, which is a standalone offshoot of the Mount Pleasant-based Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan.

“I am calling on my colleagues in the Michigan Legislature to approve this resolution in support of the Grand River Bands, a tribe with deep roots and amazing history in West Michigan,” LaGrand said in a statement.

“We ask that the Department of the Interior issue a speedy determination on the Grand River Bands’ petition, as federal recognition would allow the tribe to access vital resources.”

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).