Washtenaw County Reunification Day Coverage; Justice McCormack, Judge Conners, and Chairman Mandoka

Here is “Reunification Day” from the Washtenaw County Legal News.

An excerpt:

Justice McCormack acknowledged how moving the annual Adoption Day celebrations are and that “in a way, this is even more moving.

“As I look around and talk with people today, I believe it’s a privilege to be a part of this celebration. What a tremendous accomplishment. In reading thousands of petitions, you come to understand the struggles that families are facing in this process and of what’s required of them. I know from personal experience and as a mother that parenting is incredibly hard work. Raising a family is hard even when things are going well let alone the curve balls thrown at families in the court process.”

McCormack noted that parents “are only as happy as your unhappiest child.”

“As an appellate judge, it isn’t often that I can look a parent in the face and say, ‘Well Done.’ So it’s nice to say that today. In spite of setbacks, you didn’t stop working to show your kids what it means to be a family. And as important as that accomplishment, you have shown your kids how to get through it when life throws you a curve ball.”

Chairman Mandoka noted that during his involvement in the development of a tribal court system in Michigan, tribal leaders needed to address difficult family situations.

“We wanted to make sure people could see more clearly when in a fog. In the fog, you feel lost, you make wrong decisions. We’ve all been a part of that. We have now developed a court system and a probation system to help struggling individuals see past that fog.

“In the end, it’s always about a relationship. You can talk about models, plans and forecasts but it’s still all about the relationship; eye-to-eye contact and a handshake.

“We all should make sure that we leave this earth a better place than how it was when we came into it, for our children. That’s what should drive us, should be our passion.”

Judge Connors noted that those involved in child welfare work have defined the responsibility to three core accomplishments: safe children, strong families and supportive communities.

“We are always looking at doing whatever furthers those key goals. One thing we have learned from Native American culture and tribal courts is the importance to come to your work with an internal balance. Only then can we bring the best that we have to a situation.

Op/Ed on Bay Mills Case by Nottawaseppi Huron Potawatomi & Saginaw Chippewa Chairmen

Bids for Limitless Off-Reservation Casinos Turns into Tragic Supreme Court Showdown
Indian Country is all too familiar with the perils of taking cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Even under the best legal circumstances, the high court has repeatedly handed down staggering losses that impact the most sacred issues to Indian Country.  That is why we are so concerned about a recent case the Supreme Court has decided to review that could severely limit tribal sovereignty for all of Indian Country.
The case is Michigan vs. Bay Mills Indian Community which originated in late 2010 when the Bay Mills Tribe opened an off-reservation casino in Vanderbilt, Michigan, about 125 miles south of its reservation without proper approvals from federal and state governments.  The Bay Mills Tribe, and its sister tribe Sault Ste. Marie, have argued in federal court that the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1997 allows them to buy land anywhere in the United States to build a casino, so long as the land was purchased with land claim settlement trust funds.  The two tribes assert they are not restricted by geography or quantity of casinos. 
Both tribes have pursued federal litigation despite the fact that both the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior issued separate legal opinions concluding that Bay Mills claims are completely without merit. 
The U.S. Supreme Court granted review of the Bay Mills case after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Tribe’s assertion that sovereign immunity prevents the State of Michigan from suing to close an illegal off-reservation casino.  While we believe the State had the ability to close the casino under state law, Michigan’s Attorney General felt the need to seek relief from the Supreme Court since no federal entity would step in and close the illegal Vanderbilt casino.  We think it is safe to assume the Supreme Court did not grant review to affirm the lower court ruling.
All the Michigan gaming compacts contain a provision which states that no tribe shall pursue off-reservation gaming unless there is a written agreement between all the state’s federally recognized tribes to share in the revenue.  In March, a federal district court judge ruled that this provision is legally binding on all Michigan tribes – putting both the Sault Tribe and Bay Mills in violation of the compact.
Now, the Bay Mills case presents two questions to the Supreme Court; whether federal courts have jurisdiction to enjoin activity that violates IGRA but takes place outside of Indian lands, and whether tribal sovereign immunity bars a state from suing in federal court to enjoin a tribe from violating IGRA outside of Indian lands.  Given the Court’s recent decisions, we are deeply concerned the Court will cut away at the sacred doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity. 
Off-reservation gaming has already created a strong backlash from Congress.  It is unfortunate that some tribes who seek to build casinos far from their reservations are willing to risk the inherent sovereign rights of all tribes.  Once again, Indian Country finds itself before the Supreme Court in a case that should have never been considered in the first place. 
Homer A. Mandoka, Chairman
Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi
Dennis V. Kequom, Chief
Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe