Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians to Appeal Ingham County Judge’s Ruling on Romulus and Lansing Casino Project Lawsuits

At the beginning of the week, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians revealed that it will appeal the ruling of Joyce Draganchuk, a Judge from Ingham County, from January 3rd, 2023. Under the court’s decision, damages estimated at $88 million are set to be awarded to the parties involved in the development of the proposed Romulus and Lansing casino projects.

Kewadin Casinos Gaming Authority, which currently operates as the gaming arm of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, had joined forces with the investors to establish the casinos. Unfortunately, the development and construction plans for the two gambling venue projects have been delayed because the attempts to get the necessary approval from the US Department of the Interior to bring the land that would host the proposed casinos into trust were unsuccessful. Under the country’s federal laws, Native American tribes need the permission of the US Department of the Interior to bring some off-reservation land into trust.

Austin Lowes, the chairman of the tribe, explained that the Sault Tribe is very concerned with the discoveries it made while reading the opinion of the Ingham County Court Judge. He further shared that some meetings between the tribe’s board and legal counsel had been held, with the Native American tribe now hoping that a new direction would lead to a better outcome.

BIA Claims Sault Tribe Failed to Complete the Application Process for Putting the Land into Trust

The next legal steps of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, which currently has 44,000 members and is federally recognized, are set to seek relief from the aforementioned court’s ruling in front of Judge Draganchuk.

The tribe, which is a social, economic and cultural force in its community, also intends to appeal the matter to the Michigan Court of Appeals if such a move is necessary. Daniel V. Barnett from Grewal Law PLLC is set to represent the Native American nation in the remainder of the case after the tribe decided to end its relationship with the Patterson Law Firm.

According to court filings, the tribe never managed to complete an offer to submit additional documents to the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) that would allow it to have the land situated outside the tribe’s reservation taken into trust. Originally, the BIA stated that the application of the tribe lacked enough evidence to place the land into trust but it still decided to leave it open, so the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians was given the chance to present additional evidence that its tribal lands would be enhanced by the acquisitions. However, the tribe failed to present such evidence, Judge Draganchuk wrote in her latest ruling.

The almost $88.9-million award includes $11.4 million in principal and interest on the original loans. Apart from this, the lost revenue from the temporary and permanent casino that never started operation amounted to $75 million.

The parties involved in the planned casino development filed their first lawsuit against the gaming authority in March 2021. At the time, it sought to reclaim the loans based on the Native American tribe’s alleged misrepresentations. Since then, on multiple occasions, the attorneys of the tribe argued that they had been sovereignly immuned in the case. Each of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians’ appeals, however, were rejected.

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