Michigan Band Garners a Win in Fight for Federal Status

The case Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians v. Jewell et al. is in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Band’s representatives Bart Stupak of Venable LLP will now present evidence to the DOI that shows that under the 2015 rules, the Band satisfies all requirements necessary for federal recognition.

Federal Judge Calls DOI Ban on Re-Petitioning for Federal Recognition ‘Arbitrary and Capricious’

While last week the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) dealt a “cruel and unnecessary” blow to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, removing the Tribe’s reservation status, last week yielded a victory in an 80-year battle for federal recognition by a Michigan Band: a D.C. federal court ruling against the DOI. 

In the Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians’ 80-year fight to obtain federal recognition, a D.C. federal judge has ruled against the DOI’s 2015 ban on re-petitioning. 

Judge Amy B. Jackson called the 2015 ban that barred the unrecognized Band from re-petitioning for federal status “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act. She said the ban was “neither well reasoned nor rationally connected to the facts in the record.”

In 2015, the DOI issued a revision to Part 83 of federal regulation and considered allowing previously denied Tribes to reapply, though ultimately did not add such an amendment — even though the DOI overhauled many other aspects of what the BIA has labeled a “broken” Part 83 process deeply “in need of reform.” 

“The department did not equivocate when it reiterated that the purpose of the reforms was to address the ‘broken’ nature of the pre-2015 process,” Judge Jackson wrote. “One cannot square the promise … with depriving Tribes that were denied recognition under the old system of any opportunity to re-petition. The decision to eliminate any right to re-petition will frustrate, and not advance, the stated goal of achieving consistency.” 

The northern Michigan-based Burt Lake Band, historically known as the Cheboiganing Band, originally filed its lawsuit in 2017 against then-DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke and current BIA Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney. Resulting in a “nondecision” on its petition for recognition, the Band said it “discriminatorily precluded the Burt Lake Band from receiving necessary benefits and services, such as access to education, health and welfare programs, which are only available to members of recognized Indian Tribes.”

The Band’s representatives Bart Stupak of Venable LLP will now present evidence to the DOI that shows that under the 2015 rules, the Band satisfies all requirements necessary for federal recognition.

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