Two Michigan Tribal Citizens Selected for State of Michigan’s First Environmental Justice Advisory Council [Bryan Newland and John Petoskey]


January 23, 2020   
Gov Contact:   
EGLE Contact: 

Twenty-one Michiganders Selected for the State’s First Environmental Justice Advisory Council 

 LANSING, Mich. – Twenty-one Michiganders have been selected to the state’s first Michigan Advisory Council for Environmental Justice (MAC EJ) under the direction of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) announced today. 

 “Since taking office, I’ve been deliberate and focused on protecting our Great Lakes, cleaning up our drinking water, and combating the real-life impacts of climate change,” said Whitmer. “To address ongoing environmental justice issues, it was absolutely critical that those impacted daily have a seat at the table. We must ensure that the implementation and enforcement of environmental protections, regulations, and policies in Michigan will be fair and meaningful to all Michiganders, regardless of geography, race, color, origin, or income. Actions like these will help to further rebuild trust in our state government.” 

The Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team is led by Regina Strong, the state’s Environmental Justice Public Advocate. The MAC EJ will provide public and impacted community input for the directors appointed to the Response Team. The Response Team is also planning regional roundtables around the state to ensure that as many people as possible are at the table on environmental issues.

“Meeting people where they are is vital to our commitment to making Michigan a leader in environmental justice,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark. “Creating the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice is an important step in building the framework to ensure all Michiganders benefit equitably from our environmental laws and regulations. Through both the Office of Environmental Justice Public Advocate and the Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team, we are working to address inequities that impact communities across this state. The creation of this advisory council will play an important role in helping us achieve that goal.” 

The following individuals have been appointed to the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice:   

[moving them to the front]

Bryan Newland, of Brimley, is an active member of the Bay Mills Indian Community and the president and chairman of the Executive Council. Mr. Newland is an attorney with Fletcher Law and he earned his Juris Doctor degree from the Michigan State University College of Law.  

John Petoskey, of Northport, is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Mr. Petoskey is currently pursuing his Juris Doctor degree and Master of Science in Environmental Justice and Policy at the University of Michigan. 

Brian Upton Letter re: John Petoskey

From the Traverse City Record-Eagle:

Attorney was valued

I was disappointed that the Grand Traverse Band let go its general counsel, John Petoskey.

It is hard not to believe that this will have negative repercussions for the band. As John Wernet, Gov. Granholm’s deputy legal counsel, recently stated, John Petoskey is a highly regarded attorney.

Under his legal guidance, the band developed a productive and progressive government overseeing crucial economic development initiatives (crucial, since GTB has little land and thus no tax base with which to fund public services).

Having been lucky enough to work closely with John for five years, and having many good friends in the Grand Traverse Band community, I hope that circumstances arise so the band does not lose the resource it has in John.

His ethics and ability to combine street smarts with larger policy considerations, and community realities with the dictates of law, could be why Vine Deloria Jr., one of this country’s pre-eminent (American) Indian scholars, valued his personal and professional relationship with John.

Vine saw something in John that many others of us have also recognized — quality.

I hope the next chapter in this story recaptures the band’s decades-long history of a highly successful relationship with John. Both parties deserve nothing less.

Brian Upton
Missoula, Mont.

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.

GTB Eliminates General Counsel Position

We agree with John Wernet.

From the Record-Eagle:

Published: February 03, 2010 08:05 am

Longtime GT Band attorney let go


SUTTONS BAY — The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians cut ties with longtime legal counsel John Petoskey.

The band’s Tribal Council on Monday voted to “restructure” its legal department and make its general counsel a contracted position. The move effectively ended Petoskey’s 23-year tenure with the band.

“They said it was a restructuring, but in my view it wasn’t a restructuring,” Petoskey said Tuesday. “They wanted to get rid of me.”

The move was approved with votes from tribal councilors Sandra Witherspoon, David Arroyo and Rebecca Woods. Councilor Sandy Anderson abstained, and council members Brian Napont and Connie TwoCrow were absent.

Tribal Chairman Derek Bailey only votes to break a tie on the council, and declined comment Tuesday on the council’s decision.

“For me, the vote has been made,” Bailey said. “The action has been put in place.”

Petoskey said the decision was discussed in a closed session Monday that he did not attend. He informed other tribal staff of the move in an e-mail Monday afternoon.

“I have been dismissed by the Council with notice that my last day is Feb. 28,” Petoskey said in the brief note. He asked for any pending legal matters to be forwarded to the band’s legal department to assure a “smooth transition” to a new staff.

Petoskey described a deteriorating relationship with the tribal council in recent months. He would not cite specifics because of his attorney-client relationship with the council, but said he witnessed an increasing number of closed sessions on various topics. He said he urged officials to be more open and transparent.

“We had real differences of opinion on how the council elected to do things … it was not advice that was accepted,” Petoskey said. “As far as I know, it’s not an example of (me) doing something wrong.”

Petoskey said his annual salary is just over $100,000, but doubts the band will realize any cost savings by shifting to contracted legal help.

“A contract attorney is going to cost much more than the work that I do,” he said.

John Wernet, deputy legal counsel for Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her liaison to Michigan’s Indian tribes, described Petoskey as “one of the most-respected tribal attorneys in the country.”

“I have the utmost respect for his knowledge, ability and integrity,” Wernet said.

Petoskey said he enjoyed his career working for the band. It evolved from a small Indian tribe that operated on a shoestring budget for years after its federal recognition in 1980 to a major economic powerhouse and employer in northern Michigan that runs two casinos and the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

“It’s certainly been rewarding,” Petoskey said. “I’m from here, I spent my whole life working here.

“Years ago the band was nothing. Now it’s something,” he said.