Tribe Plans to Challenge Feds on Lansing Casino

Posted on: October 26, 2017, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: October 26, 2017, 04:38h.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians voted on Tuesday to challenge the federal government’s decision to deny their request to build a new casino in Lansing, Michigan.

Kewadin Lansing Casino
The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians has vowed to continue to fight for their proposed casino in Lansing. (Image: Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians)

The proposed casino would be located next to the Lansing Center, on land that has been owned by the tribe since 2012.

The tribe has been working with the city of Lansing on their proposal from 2012, and submitted an application to the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2014. However, their application was denied this July, leaving the future of the project in doubt.

“We have no intent on giving up, and we will soon determine which option – legal, administrative or legislative – will we pursue to continue our fight for our legal rights,” tribe chairperson Aaron Payment says in a statement following the decision.

Board Approves ‘Necessary’ Actions

This week, the tribe’s Board of Directors approved a resolution that will allow attorneys to “take whatever action is necessary” to overturn the decision of the Interior Department. According to tribal lawyers, a federal lawsuit may be the most viable option.

“We are continuing to work with our legal counsel to make sure we have pursued every available option, but it seems likely that a lawsuit will be necessary to vindicate the Tribe’s clear statutory right to have these lands placed in mandatory trust status,” general counsel John Wernet told the Lansing State Journal.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe already owns five casinos in the state, all of which are located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The tribe’s application was an attempt to entrust their land in Lansing, as well as another plot in New Boston.

In their denial, the Interior Department said that the tribe has failed to prove that the casino plans would achieve the “enhancement of tribal lands” that would require the government to entrust that property to the tribe.

Mayor Favors Casino, But Other Tribes Oppose

The plans for a casino have been fairly complicated, with various factions lining up in favor of and in opposition to the proposal. Mayor Virg Bernero has been a supporter of the project, known as the Kewadin Lansing Casino, believing that the planned resort could bring both jobs and tax revenues to his city.

“The revenues generated by such a facility would provide critical resources and services for the Tribe and its members, as well as fully funding the Lansing Promise scholarship program that would provide four years of free college tuition to Lansing’s children,” Bernero said in July.

However, both the Saginaw Chippewa tribe and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi have opposed the proposal since it was first announced in 2011. Each of those tribes owns their own casino, and claim that the project violates the 1997 Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act.

“Mayor Bernero was wrong when he indicated several years ago that this process would take a few months; he was wrong when he said that Interior would approve the applications; and he is wrong now to expect any future outcome in what has been an ill-advised scheme to circumvent well established federal law governing Indian gaming,” said Saginaw Chippewa chief Frank Cloutier.