John Petoskey’s Legal Career (So Far…..) — UPDATED

So, in a major shocker that has Grand Traverse Band’s tribal council all over the news in Indian Country, GTB General Counsel John Petoskey has been terminated after 23 years with the tribe. His legal career isn’t over, to be sure, but here is a snapshot view of his contributions to the law.

GTB and Indian Country owe JP a very sincere debt of gratitude (as do I for teaching me everything I know). The following is just a snapshot, and if anyone sends me something I forgot or didn’t know about, I’ll include it ASAP:

Federal Court Cases

  • Grand Traverse Band v. United States Attorney, 198 F. Supp. 420 (W.D. Mich. 2002), aff’d, 369 F.3d 960 (6th Cir. 2004) — JP masterminded the legal theories on restored lands/restored tribes that were adopted by the NIGC and later approved by two federal courts in the case, as well as several federal court decisions that followed.
  • Tribes v. Michigan/Engler (1990-2001) — JP represented GTB through these various cases, starting with the IGRA good faith lawsuit filed against the state and then later Gov. Engler, followed by the two suits reopening the case on grounds that Engler breached the agreement when the state granted licenses to open the Detroit casinos and then then the state entered into compacts with other tribes.
  • U.S. v. Michigan (1987-2007) — JP has been involved as an attorney for GTB in this case since he returned from New Mexico in 1987. Perhaps his greatest contribution, however, is as an active participant in the fishing wars of the 1970s, as documented in George Weeks’ Mem-Ka-Weh.
  • Carcieri v. Salazar — JP first recommended the GTB serve as a primary amicus in the case since it reached the First Circuit in 2003, all the way the Supreme Court.
  • U.S. v. Abeyta (D. N.M. 1986) — co-counsel to Jim Anaya in successfully defending on First Amendment grounds Isleta Pueblo member from federal prosecution for taking a bald eagle

State Court Cases

  • State v. Ryder (N.M. 1982) — JP  successfully argued that tribal officers have authority to stop and detain non-Indian criminal suspects.


  • 2007 U.S. Michigan Inland Treaty Rights Consent Decree
  • 2004 Michigan-Tribal Tax Agreement
  • 1993 Class III Gaming Compact, though the consent decree/stipulation in Tribes v. Michigan settlement


  • Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (2003, and later refinancing) — JP spearheaded the due diligence and financing work on this $60-something million purchase.
  • Turtle Creek Casino and Resort — handled most every expansion and financing from its inception in 1996
  • Hudson’s Lease agreement — Mid-90s plan to open an off-reservation casino in downtown Detroit, blocked when Gov. Engler arbitrarily refused to consent — the big fish that got away.


  • JP has recommended that GTB support (both financially and in kind) the nascent NCAI/NARF Tribal Supreme Court Project from its inception in 2001.
  • JP’s worked to assist GTB restore its land base through the trust acquisition process.
  • JP first headed the GTB Economic Development Authority, then later did the work to transform the EDA into a Section 17 corporation.
  • JP wrote 60 … 70 … 80 … 90???? percent of the Grand Traverse Band Code and a like number of tribal council resolutions and ordinances.
  • JP spearheaded the codification of GTB law.
  • JP represented the tribal government in most every major tribal court case prosecuted in the GTB court system, notably In re McSauby (the Marbury v. Madison of the GTB tribal court).
  • JP wrote portions of George Weeks’ history of the Grand Traverse Band.
  • As “John Petosky,” wrote a chapter in a Vine Deloria-edited collection on the applicability of the First Amendment in Indian religious freedom cases, sadly predicting cases like Lyng, Smith, and Navajo Nation v. USFS.
  • As a law student, JP worked with Michigan Indian Legal Services in the late 1970s to do the groundwork on preserving Indian land claims in Michigan.
  • And JP is a PLSI grad and a PLSI tutor.
  • JP worked with outside counsel (Mary Streitz) in securing an IRS private letter ruling allowing deferred taxation of tribal children’s trust fund money deriving from gaming per cap payments
  • JP wrote the Grand Traverse Band section in the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act (P.L. 105-143)

In short, John is a legend in the history of the Grand Traverse Band.

10 thoughts on “John Petoskey’s Legal Career (So Far…..) — UPDATED

  1. D. Michael McBride III February 3, 2010 / 4:29 pm

    John Petosky is a “legal rock star”–and not just for the Grand Traverse Band. I’m sorry to read about the “termination”; it is GTB’s loss. Good luck John! You have many great endeavors ahead of you!

  2. Lance Morgan February 3, 2010 / 5:09 pm

    In 1994, when i didnt know anything John took the time to teach me a few things and was very inspiring to me. He probably doesnt even remember but I do. Lance Morgan.

  3. Dennis G. Chappabitty February 3, 2010 / 5:42 pm

    Why a tribe’s elected leadership would shoot a highpowered, brave and loyal “legal war horse” out from under itself at full gallop is amazing and sad at the same time. My advice: throw the bums out and get John back, he is one of your own tribal members who got to where he is with hard work and dedication to all Indian Peoples.

  4. RT Kennedy February 3, 2010 / 10:00 pm

    Having known John as a friend and mentor almost thirty years ago as I started to practice law, and watching him grow a career as successful and storied in his success for native peoples as anyone’s in Indian Law these days, I am very disappointed in this news. Wherever John winds up will benefit greatly from the services of a great lawyer and exemplary man, but no one can doubt the work and the love his heart and his fine mind brought to bear for the benefit of his people.
    Judge Roderick Kennedy, NM Court of Appeals

  5. Dale White February 4, 2010 / 8:48 am

    John and I are old friends, went through the PLSA Summer program in 1976 (was it that long ago? Dennis was in our class); and I’ve stayed in touch with him off and on since then. I don’t know all the details, but I know John and it defies logic and common sense that his own Tribe would restructure him out of a job and outsource it to an outside law firm after all the work and dedication that he gave over the years. I would think that his Tribal council should know that they can’t do any better than to have its own tribal member work as its inhouse attorney. All I can say is that I got “restructured” out of a general counsel job a few years ago so I know the feeling…It’s not fun, but I got back on my feet and I know that John will make a comeback. If you read this John, give me a call….

  6. James Nye February 4, 2010 / 10:45 am

    JP taught me the basis of federal Indian gaming law and policy as set forth in CA v. Cabazon (criminal/prohibitory vs. civil/regulatory), IGRA, and NIGC procedures. JP (and Buddy) taught me the history of the process that eventually produced the 1993 Mich. gaming compacts – one of the best compacts in the U.S. JP is rightly credited for much of the success GTB has enjoyed. I thank him for the teachings and congratulate him on a stellar career. JN

  7. Brian Upton February 4, 2010 / 5:05 pm

    I first met John Petoskey while I was interning for Judge Michael Petoskey and the GTB Tribal Court in the summer of 1997. After John hired me to work for the GTB Legal Department, he was one of my primary mentors during my five years there. I was always, and continue to be, in awe of John’s ability to combine his considerable creativity, practicality, and legal acumen in addressing and resolving legal and political issues. And he always does so with his high ethical standards at the forefront. I was shocked to hear that the Band let him go. I feel as bad for the Band as for him. John being who he is, and the Band being the community it is, both will continue their very successful paths. I just hope they can do so together like they have for the last 23+ years.

    Thanks to Matthew Fletcher for posting about this, for compiling highlights of JP’s impressive accomplishments to date, and for providing this space for people around the country to share their thoughts and reactions.

    – Brian Upton, Tribal Attorney
    Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes Legal Department

  8. Bruce Davies February 5, 2010 / 3:27 pm

    I was also a memebr of the storied group that lived on the same dorm corridor during the summer law program. John was a great guy then (as was Dale). It does not suprise me that both of them had their horses shot out from under them due to Indian politics. I have lost jobs too and remember a good quote someone passed on during one of those transitions:”When one door closes, another one opens.”

  9. Judge Melvin R. Stoof, Pascua Yaqui Tribe February 5, 2010 / 8:00 pm

    I am shocked and dismayed at GTB’s decision to let John go. He has always exemplified the best that a lawyer has to offer, as an attorney, a judge, and a mentor. I suppose some other Tribe or employer will better appreciate his talents and intellect. GTB does not know who they are losing. Best wishes, John, in whatever you do.

  10. shana barehand February 6, 2010 / 1:19 am

    Matt and all thank you for sharing Johns accomplishments, history and thoughts. Although I did not know John I am grateful to know all he has done. And to you all who have been mentors and teachers to all of us.

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