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EchoHawk signs reservation proclamation for Gun Lake Tribe

WASHINGTON – The Gun Lake Tribe is no longer without a reservation.

Six months after the Interior Department formally took land into trust for the tribe, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk signed a proclamation officially declaring the approximate 147 acres in Wayland Township, Allegan County, Michigan, as the tribe’s initial reservation under the authority of the Indian Reorginization Act of June 18, 1934.

The Interior Department issued a press release announcing the proclamation in favor of the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, Gun Lake’s formal name.

“I am pleased to issue this proclamation and to exercise the authority delegated to me by the secretary of the Interior to the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians,” EchoHawk said. “The land is for the exclusive use of Indians on the reservation who are entitled to reside at the reservation by enrollment or tribal membership. These properties will provide opportunities for economic development, self-determination and self-sufficiency.”

A reservation proclamation is a formal declaration issued by the Interior secretary, proclaiming that certain trust lands acquired for an Indian tribe are a new reservation or are being added to an existing reservation. The request for a proclamation must originate from the tribe.

“This was an administrative action that we’ve been expecting for some time,” said Gun Lake spokesman James Nye. “We appreciate the BIA’s issuance of the proclamation and we are very excited about creating new employment opportunities through construction and operation of the Gun Lake Casino.”

The tribe is moving forward with plans to open the casino next year. The casino will have 2,500 slot machines and 75 table games. It will directly employ 1,800 people with a total average annual compensation package of $40,000, and provide an additional 3,100 indirect jobs and more than $20 million a year in purchases of goods and services from the area’s businesses.

Funds will also go to the state’s general fund. A tribal-state compact will provide the state with eight percent of gaming revenues, with two percent going to surrounding communities, on the first $150 million in annual revenue. If the casino makes more than that, the state’s share increases.

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Station Casinos, the tribe’s investor, recently filed for bankruptcy, but that will not affect the tribe’s casino project, Nye said.

Gun Lake fought long and hard to secure its reservation land against a group of powerful and heavily funded anti-Indian casino opponents who filed lawsuit after lawsuit trying to stop Interior from taking the land into trust.

The tribe had no land base. In August 2001, Gun Lake filed its initial land acquisition application asking the Interior secretary to take the land into trust as a reservation under federal laws, including the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Opponents immediately filed a lawsuit opposing Interior’s action.

On May 13, 2006, the Interior published a final notice to take the land into trust in the Federal Register. Although the opponents lost every lawsuit they filed against the department, they continued to appeal through the state and federal court systems, delaying the finalization of the trust land until early this year.

Gun Lake was the last tribe to receive land into trust before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its controversial Carcieri ruling that the Interior secretary does not have authority to take land into trust for tribes that were not federally recognized at the time of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. The Carcieri case is named after the governor of Rhode Island, who challenged the secretary’s authority to take land into trust for the Narragansett Tribe.

Gun Lake was federally acknowledged in 1998.

Just days before the Interior placed the 147 acres into trust Jan. 30; the Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court in Washington denied motions from Gun Lake’s opponents to stop Interior’s action. Both motions were based on the Carcieri case, which was pending at the time. One motion presented the same challenge as Carcieri against the Interior secretary’s authority to take land into trust, and the other asked the court to stop Interior’s action until Carcieri was decided.

The Supreme Court issued its Carcieri ruling Feb. 24.

The reservation proclamation means Gun Lake’s trust lands are now legally a formal reservation. The BIA’s Midwest Regional Office will record the Federal Register’s notice and proclamation in the Land Titles and Records Office, after which the original proclamation will be sent to the Gun Lake Tribe for its records.