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Land dispute causing legal headache for Michigan Indian tribe

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in the Upper Peninsula is facing further difficulties this month as once again their plans to build a casino in Lansing have been halted. Despite moving forward since it was first announced, a recent lawsuit filed by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has now blocked the tribe's plans to place the land the casino was to be built on into a trust.

Before the casino could be built, the tribe was told that the U.S. Department of the Interior would have to first agree to take the land for the casino into trust. It's a move that U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker feels is against state and federal gaming laws. This month he granted the state's motion for an injunction against the trust, telling the tribe that they could not move forward with their building plans until they had obtained a written revenue sharing agreement with the other federally-recognized Indian tribes in Michigan.

Although a tribal chairperson from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe says that they were prepared for such legality to take place, its headache with the state could only be the tip of the iceberg. Many experts are expecting other tribes in the state to file suit against the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe if they get the final go-ahead on the project. At present time, several tribal casinos in the state have already applauded the federal judge's ruling, claiming that the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe should already have known that their proposal "clearly violates state and federal law."

Despite the tremendous complexity of this land dispute, one tribal chairperson from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe says that the tribe remains "undeterred and steadfastly committed to pursuing [their legal right to develop [their] Lansing casino" and is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to achieve their goal. It's important to point out that the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe does have the right to appeal the federal judge's decision in the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, though a legal move such as that could take more than a year to come to a resolution.

Source: Michigan Radio, "Craps: Lansing casino project in jeopardy," Steve Carmody, Mar. 5, 2013

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