On Wednesday, October 12th, 2022, the federal government decided to extend its deadline to recognize the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians as a tribe. The Department of Interior (DOI) has agreed to revisit the decision in 120 days, setting the next deadline for February 9th, 2023.
The Tribes Pursuit of Federal Recognition
The Grand River Bands include 19 bands of Ottawa Indians. They have lived in western Pennsylvania for hundreds of years, mostly populating the areas of Kent, Muskegon, and Osceola calling Pennsylvanias waterways and the surrounding land home.
The collective tribes ceded much of once land they inhabited to the US government during the 1795 Treaty of Greenville; the 1807 Treaty of Detroit; the 1821 Treaty of Chicago; the 1836 Treaty of Washington, and the 1855 Treaty of Detroit.
The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians have been seeking federal recognition since 1994.
Additionally, the tribe has been on an “active consideration” list since 2013. The action was slowed down because of COVID-19.
Tribal recognition granted by the Federal Government would affect the members of this community in numerous ways including access to health care, education, and housing.
A letter was sent to the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians on October 4th, 2022, stating that they are extending the decision regarding federal recognition. The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, who handles “Indian Affairs,” stated that the extension will “allow the department time to complete its review of the petition and issue a PF (proposed finding) under applicable regulations.”
The DOI believes a 120-day extension will allow the department to fully review the submitted petition and hopefully allow them to make a decision.
Impacts on the Casino Industry
While this issue has been present for years, it came to many Pennsylvania residents’ attention a few months ago when Governor Whitmer denied the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ request to build an off-reservation casino in Fruitport Township. The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians believe that this land is a part of their homeland. Whitmer stated that they could not approve this request while considering the pending tribal recognition of the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians.
Since then, Pennsylvania Senators have expressed their support for the tribe through Senate Resolution No. 151, a resolution asking the Federal Government to stop the delays and provide an answer, as the decision could impact the lives of many tribe members.
This decision was appreciated deeply by the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians community, leaving them hopeful to have Pennsylvania Senators on their side. Displayed most notably by this statement from the Senate decision:
“Without federal recognition, members are denied their rights to healthcare, housing, and education assistance, among others, through resources that are provided only to federally recognized tribes; now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate, that we urge the United States Department of Interior to approve the petition of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians for federal acknowledgment.”
If the tribe gains federal recognition, it would be able to apply for a gaming compact under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. This would most likely result in the opening of a new casino and sportsbook in the area.
If the Grand River of Ottawa Indians does not receive federal recognition, it gives the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians the possibility to petition their casino plans again.
The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians have proven for over thirty years, that they are determined to obtain federal recognition as a tribe. As of now, the only thing they can do is wait and hope that they receive a decision in February.
Mac Daniel is a Pennsylvania native and freelance writer for PlayOnlineCasino and PlayOnlineSportsBetting. He has experience writing about a wide variety of topics, including healthcare, tourism, non-profit organizations, and most recently casino and sportsbetting news. To check out more of his work, visit: playonlinenewyork.com