Widespread Support for Gun Lake’s Trust Land

Widespread Support for Gun Lake’s Trust Land

Gale Courey Toensing
10/3/11

Local governments, business groups and agencies in and around Allegan County, Michigan, where the Gun Lake Tribe has its casino have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review petitions filed by the tribe and Interior Department in a case challenging the casino trust land.

More than 15 entities, including Wayland Township, Allegan County, the Allegan Area Education Service Agency, the cities of Wayland and Allegan, the Barry County Chamber of Commerce, the Barry County Economic Development Alliance, the Gun Lake Business Association, and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Michigan have filed a collective amici curiae – friend of the court – brief in the petition for certiorari filed with the high court by the Interior Department and the Match-E-Nash-E-Wish Band of Pottawatomi (the Gun Lake Tribe) Indians versus David Patchak. The high court has been asked to review a ruling issued by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last January that said Patchak, a former trustee in Wayland County, Michigan, has standing to bring a lawsuit against the Interior Department for taking into trust 147 acres in Bradley, Michigan, near Grand Rapids where the tribe operates its casino. The casino, which opened in February, created 900 new jobs and has brought a new wave of prosperity to local hotels, restaurants, vendors and other businesses in an area that had a reported 11.9 percent unemployment rate.

“Collectively, the amici curiae represent numerous individuals and businesses that support and have been positively affected by the Band’s economic development activities on the trust land. They submit this brief to explain the substantial local benefits that arise from the cooperative and mutually reinforcing economic development efforts of the Band, the regional governments, and local businesses,” the amici wrote. “The amici curiae urge this Court to grant the petitions for certiorari to resolve the debilitating uncertainty and economic instability created by the court of appeals’ decision, which threatens to stifle economic development in a state and region that has endured a disproportionate amount of economic suffering in recent years.”

The appeals court ruling reversed a federal district court decision that dismissed Patchak’s lawsuit, which he filed under the Administrative Procedure Act, claiming that the Interior secretary was not authorized to take Gun Lake’s land into trust because the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) was passed—a challenge that relies on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Carcieri v. Salazar ruling in 2009. His ultimate goal is to have the courts take away the trust status of the casino land. The district court said Patchak did not have standing to bring the lawsuit and was further barred from filing the complaint by the Quiet Title Act (QTA), which says the federal government cannot be divested of title to Indian trust lands. In its ruling, appeals court expanded the previous criteria for “standing”—the right to initiate a lawsuit—by granting Patchak prudential standing. Because the appeals court ruling was a departure from rulings in similar cases from four other circuit courts, the high court is likely to take it up,” said Matthew L.M. Fletcher, an associate professor of law and the director of the Indigenous Law & Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law.

Fletcher was correct in another prediction that’s proven true by the amices’ widespread support for Gun Lake. Fletcher predicted that Pachak’s position was not widely held. “Wayland and its surrounding townships long have hoped for more industry and economic growth – I know, I grew up there. So it’s just one guy for all we know who doesn’t want that. He’s pretty firmly in a tiny minority,” Fletcher told Indian Country Today Media Network.

The amici argue that Gun Lake’s casino development has provided local governments with “critical resources.” Six months after opening its casino, Gun Lake contributed more than $500,000 to local governments and more than $2 million to the state, they wrote. “The consequences of allowing an individual litigant to destabilize economic and business planning are clear,” they wrote. “Local governments across the country must be able to rely on the federal government’s decision to take land into trust and the stability of the federal government’s title to the land, so that they can enter into contracts to construct improvements and undertake other important projects.”

The high court has conference days on October 7, 14, and 28 when it will decide whether to accept the Gun Lake and Interior Department petitions.

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