Gun Lake Land Into Trust Law Upheld By Federal Court

Written By Janice Doughtrey

The United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia Circuit has decided to uphold the Land Into Trust law in a disagreement between an Indian tribe in Michigan and a nearby landowner. This will end the long dispute and will uphold the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act.

The Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act is more commonly known for it’s shortened name S1603. S1603 was passed back in October of 2013, and was later upheld by another lower court judge just a couple years later. The land was taken by the Department of The Interior due to its aboriginal status of belonging to the local tribe, and was passed over to the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Group of Pottawatomi Indians. The tribe uses this land to operate its Gun Lake Casino, which sits on the 147 acre plot known as the “Bradley Property” alongside the outer edges of the city of Wayland, Michigan.

A local landowner David Patchak fought against the legislation decision in an attempt to hold onto his claim of the property. His challenge uses the 2009 Carcieri vs. Salazar ruling that was made under the United States Supreme Court. This ruling restricted land into trust decisions to only being made to tribes that had been established by 1934. The argument stands that the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish band was not federally recognized until 1999. This gave Patchak hope to turn over the decision made by the Department of The Interior through the United States Court of Appeals, which had heard oral arguments two months prior.

“Congress made a considered determination to ratify the Department of The Interior’s decision to take the Bradley Property into trust for the Gun Lake Tribe and further to remove any potential impediments to the finality of that decision,” was read by Judge Robert Wilkins from the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia Circuit.

This decision is a landmark decision for Indian tribes in the region as this is the first time that a court has upheld contested land into trust laws. Some speculate that this may push other tribes to seek out their own similar protection. There is already another act in congress that is known as the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Land Reaffirmation Act that would give the Alabama tribe Poarch Band of Creek Indians an order of protection against lawsuits that might challenge their right to the reservation lands. Other tribes might work to get their own reaffirmation acts put in place so that they can protect their rights to lands that have been given to them through the federal government should suits arise from landowners in their own regions.

The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Group has made a recent announcement that it is planning to expand outward and add on an additional 1,600 slot Gun Lake Casino that features a large buffer directly on the main gaming area. This is expected to bring in a massive amount of revenue for the tribe.