WEDNESDAY, APRIL 1, 2015
The flag of the Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians flies in Michigan. Photo by Fuyuko Hara / Facebook
The Mackinac Tribe of Michigan must go through the federal recognition process if it wants to follow the Indian Reorganization Act, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
The tribe's Ojibwe and Odawa ancestors signed a series of treaties between 1783 and 1855 and they were identified a distinct community by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as recently as 1926. With that in mind, tribal members asked the Interior Department to conduct a secretarial election in order for them to organize under the IRA.
When nothing came of the request, the tribe went to court in hopes of forcing action. But Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said the lawsuit was premature because the tribe had not exhausted its administrative remedies -- namely the Part 83 federal recognition process.
"Plaintiffs do not dispute that the Part 83 Process is the mechanism by which [Interior] Secretary now recognizes tribes and consequently determines whether Indian groups are eligible for federal benefits such as reorganization, yet plaintiff concedes that it has not pursued those regulatory procedures," Jackson wrote in the 29-page decision.
"Although plaintiff Mackinac Tribe may have approached the Secretary to ask for an election pursuant to the IRA, and thereby invoked the administrative process to some extent, it did not ask the agency the relevant question for the purpose of the administrative process—i.e., whether the Mackinac Tribe satisfies the Part 83 requirements for federal recognition—which, according to the agency, is an indispensible precursor to any request that the Secretary call an election for reorganization of the tribe," Jackson added.
At least one Mackinac group, the Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, has filed a petition with the BIA for federal recognition. Some Mackinac descendants are members of, or are eligible for membership, in the Sault Ste. Marie