On June 15th, Governor Gretchen turned down the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ request to establish a casino on off-reservation land in Fruitport Township, a project that has been considered and negotiated for almost 14 years.
In a letter to the US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Governor Whitmer explained that she was unable to support the request of the aforementioned Indian tribe due to uncertainty created by another tribe in West Michigan, the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians, which is currently seeking federal acknowledgement from the US Department of Interior Affairs.
In her official statement, Governor Whitmer noted that the Department of the Interior first needed to make a decision on whether it was to provide the required federal recognition to the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians that reside in close proximity. She explained that it is extremely important for her, as a Governor, to have this information in order to be able to make an informed decision. Governor Whitmer further shared that she remained disappointed in the lack of flexibility of the Department.
In case the Department of Interior provides federal recognition to the Grand River Band, the tribe may unveil a desire to establish its own casino in the same area that is targetted by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.
Discussions regarding the opening of a casino establishment in Fruitport Township have been ongoing for almost 14 years, since July 2008. Following the approval that was given to the tribe by the US Department of Interior, Government Whitmor had one year to issue a decision on the project. In mid-December, she received a 6-month extension. According to a June 6th letter from the Interior Department, a request by Whitmer to put off her decision until the final decision of the Department on the acknowledgement of the Grand River Band was rejected.
Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians Need to Get Federal Recognition First
The recently unveiled decision of Governor Whitmer was a blow to the Little River tribe and the officials of the Muskegon area who have been lobbying in favor of the casino establishment for years, claiming it would bring additional investment and tax revenue to the county, along with more jobs.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians tribe has been willing to establish a casino resort worth $180 million on a site that is not part of its reservation land. However, the proposal requires both federal and state approval to become reality exactly because it is outside tribal lands. According to the tribe’s claims, 42% of its members are residents of the Muskegon area.
Currently, the tribe operates a casino in Manistee.
Governor Whitmor shared that she remains mindful of the considerable amount of time and financial resources the tribe has invested into the proposal and noted that she would remain committed to creating good-paying jobs and economic development for Muskegon County.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians received the approval of the US Department of Interior on December 16th, 2020. At the time, the exclusive governmental agency found that establishing a casino would not only be in the best interest of the Native American tribe but would also not be detrimental to the community.
The proposed casino resort project received broad local support but it also faced some opposition from other casinos in the state of Michigan that are against off-reservation gaming. In 2021, the Wayne County Board of Commissioners and the Detroit City Council issued resolutions to oppose the efforts to establish an expansion of gaming outside reservation land in the state. A similar resolution was also approved by the state House in February last year.