Bay Mills has a reservation located on tribal land in the Upper Peninsula’s Chippewa County on the eastern end of Lake Superior.
In 2010, the tribe used earnings from a land settlement trust to purchase 40 acres of land in Vanderbilt, a tiny town just north of Gaylord that’s located more than 100 miles south of the tribe’s main reservation.
The Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act says that land acquired with funds from a land trust “shall be held as Indian lands are held.” So Bay Mills used that language as legal authority to open a small casino in November 2010 in Vanderbilt.MLive File PhotoBay Mills Indian Community, which has a reservation located in the Upper Peninsula’s Chippewa County, used trust earnings to purchase land in Vanderbilt and opened a casino there in November 2010.<
Not everyone agrees with that interpretation of the act.
“Tribes usually don’t have the audacity to do that,” said Matthew Fletcher, director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University. “Because they were so audacious, no one really knew what to do to make it go away.”
The state filed a lawsuit along with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, which operates a casino in Petoskey. They argued Bay Mills violated the tribal-state compact, a 1993 written agreement with the state government outlining the tribe’s gaming rights. The state also said the tribe violated state law by opening the casino without proper approvals.
A federal district judge sided with the state and ordered the casino to close in March 2011. But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the order, ruling last week that the district court didn’t have the right jurisdiction to rule on some claims, and that the tribe’s sovereign immunity bars some of the other claims.
The Vanderbilt casino was considered a test site for larger facilities in the more densely populated areas of Flint Township and Port Huron, but tribal leaders haven’t come out and said what they plan to do with the Vanderbilt facility or proposed casinos on land purchased in Flint Township and Port Huron.