A group of American Indians in Michigan have lost their bid to block a land transfer of nearly 9,000 acres to a company proposing a limestone mine—the “largest single public land deal in Michigan history,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
The attempted injunction was the last legal line of defense against the mine, which would cover as many as 13,000 acres, according to the Detroit Free Press. In the deal, which was approved in March, the state will sell 8,810 acres of “surface land or underground mineral rights” to Graymont, a Canadian mining company, for $4.53 million so it can build the limestone mine in the Upper Peninsula, the Detroit Free Press said.
The group—comprised of members of several tribes—had filed suit in Grand Rapids trying to stop the Michigan Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh from transferring land to Graymont Mining Co., based on treaty rights. The mine would be built on about 10,360 acres in the northern peninsula, the Associated Press reported.
"The land subject to transfer is wholly within the 1836 Treaty of Washington Ceded Territory and subject to the conditions laid out in the 2007 Inland Consent Decree,” said lead plaintiff Phil Bellfy in a statement. “It would be unconstitutional for the MDNR Director to transfer those lands as we—American Indians—have Treaty rights to "the usual privileges of occupancy" on those 11,000 acres. We are asking the Court to step in and preserve our Treaty rights and enjoin Mr. Craegh from transferring that land."
Bellfy said that the land transfer is unconstitutional under treaty provisions. The Michigan Department of Resources announced on Tuesday March 10 that it would recommend Creagh approve the deal at the agency’s March 19 meeting.
Besides Bellfy, members of several area tribes are plaintiffs in the lawsuit—the Bay Mills Indian Community, ?Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, ?Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, ?Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. They are also backed by the Sierra Club and numerous residents who oppose the project, but the prospect of jobs in the economically beleaguered town won out.
Though the tribes were unsuccessful in their bid to get an injunction against the company, the judge did refer the matter to the Court’s Magistrate to see whether or not it should be assigned to the judge who is overseeing the consent decree, Bellfy said in the group’s statement.