Michigan Tribal Leaders Request Federal Probe Into Approval of Muskegon County Casino Project

  • Three tribal leaders have written to the government requesting a probe into the plan’s approval
  • Donald Trump’s adminstration controversially OK’d the Little River Band’s project in December
  • The three tribes have argued that the approval forces Gov. Whitmer to make a difficult decision
  • The Little River Band believes the casino will bring economic benefits to the area, including jobs
Map of Michigan
Three Michigan tribal leaders have requested a government probe into the Trump administration’s approval of a casino project in Muskegon County. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A letter of disapproval

A tough decision could lie ahead of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer over plans for a casino in Muskegon County. The $180m off-reservation casino project of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians has faced staunch opposition since its inception, and tribal leaders put pen to paper this week to voice their concerns with the federal government.

requested an investigation into the Trump administration’s approval of the casino project

According to The Detroit News, three Michigan tribal leaders wrote to the inspector general for the US department of the interior Mark Lee Greenblatt on Monday. In their letter, they requested an investigation into the Trump administration’s approval of the casino project, which came in December last year.

The letter’s authors include Bob Peters, chairman of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, Jamie Stuck, chairman of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, and Tim Davis, chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. The leaders argued that the project’s approval was “driven by politics” and was intended to “politically harm Governor Whitmer” due to her criticism of former President Donald Trump.

Gov. Whitmer must concur with the Trump administration’s determination within a year of the initial approval for the casino to go ahead.

The controversial casino project

The Little River Band has been preparing its plans for a casino in Muskegon County for more than a decade. The tribe purchased around 60 acres of land in Fruitport Township in 2008, located 92 miles from the tribe’s reservation in Manistee County. The plan focuses on a former horse race track, and would include a casino, retail space and a hotel.

Usually, the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act would prevent gaming activities on lands acquired in trust. However, the Indian affairs in the Interior Department can override this if it believes a project would benefit a local community and tribe. Just before Trump left office last year, his assistant secretary of Indian affairs signed off on the project.

As is clear from Monday’s letter, that decision has caused controversy among Michigan’s tribal community. The tribal leaders asked the inspector general to probe whether the Trump administration followed “proper substantive and procedural processes” in approving the plans. They believe that officials wanted to force Gov. Whitmer to make a difficult decision on the “historically controversial” project.

The tribal leaders are not the only ones hoping to block the plans. Members of the Detroit City Council and the Wayne County Board of Commissioners are concerned that the approval may prompt tribes to pursue casino projects in other areas – diminishing revenue for Detroit’s three commercial casinos in the process.

The Little River Band’s defense

In response to Monday’s letter, the Little River Band has spoken out in defense of the Muskegon County project. “This is nothing more than a desperate legal maneuver by these tribes to stop 3,000 jobs and future economic development from coming to Muskegon County,” commented Tom Shields, spokesman for the tribe.

more of its 4,800 members live in Muskegon County than in Manistee

The Little River Band’s argument also centers around the area in which the casino will reside. According to the federal government, the tribe descended from a confederation which once settled in the area as early as the 1700s. As a result, more of its 4,800 members live in Muskegon County than in Manistee.

In addition to the Little River Band, Gov. Gretchen is also facing pressure from West Michigan officials, who believe the casino will create an economic boom in the local area. Todd Dunham, supervisor of Fruitport Township, said the project would “bring businesses into the area, not only Fruitport Township, but the county as a whole.”