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 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.”