Aaron Payment, the chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, at the 74th annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 19, 2017. He won election as Vice President of the organization during the convention. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Sault Tribe votes to initiate litigation over Trump's denial of off-reservation casinos

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians plans to sue the Trump administration for rejecting two off-reservation casinos in Michigan.

The tribe's board of directors approved a resolution on Tuesday authorizing litigation, The Lansing State Journal reported. The tribe's general counsel didn't say when a lawsuit might be filed.

"We are continuing to work with our legal counsel to make sure we have pursued every available option," John Wernet told the Journal, "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."

In July, the Department of the Interior rejected the tribe's land-into-trust applications in Lansing and in Sibley. A top official said the sites were too far -- hundreds of miles in fact -- from tribal headquarters to justify the acquisition.

"Here, the distances are even greater - the tribe's headquarters is approximately 260 miles (287 miles by road) from the Lansing parcels, and approximately 305 miles (356 miles by road) from the Sibley parcel," Jim Cason, the Associate Deputy Secretary at Interior, wrote in the July 24 letter.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is now considering regulations that would make it harder for tribes to acquire land away from existing reservations. Aaron Payment, the chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, spoke out against the effort at a listening session last Monday, saying it wouldn't just affect gaming projects.

"We need off-reservation land parcels that provide access to treaty fishing sites,” Payment said in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last week. Comments on the Fee-to-Trust Regulations (25 CFR 151) are due December 15.

According to the tribe, the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act requires the BIA to place certain lands in trust. The decision from Cason rejected that argument.

Read More on the Story:
Lansing casino fight rages on as tribe votes to challenge feds (The Lansing State Journal October 25, 2017)

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