In a unanimous decision, the United States Court Of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Circuit has ended a long-running land-into-trust dispute between a Michigan tribe and a local landowner by upholding the legality of the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act.
Also known as S1603, the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act was passed by Congress in October of 2013 before being upheld by a lower court judge a little less than two years later. The legislation acknowledges the aboriginal status of land taken into trust by the Department of The Interior for the benefit of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band Of Pottawatomi Indians, which operates the Gun Lake Casino on the 147-acre “Bradley Property” plot near the city of Wayland, Michigan.
David Patchak, who resides within three miles of the casino, had challenged the legislation under 2009’s Carcieri v Salazar ruling from the United States Supreme Court, which restricts land-into-trust grants only to tribes that had been “under federal jurisdiction” by 1934. The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band Of Pottawatomi Indians was not federally recognized until 1999 and Patchak had hoped to overturn the Department Of The Interior’s action with the United States Court Of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Circuit hearing oral arguments on the matter two months ago.
“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,” read a statement from Judge Robert Wilkins from the United States Court Of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Circuit.
The decision marks the first time a land-into-trust law has been upheld through the courts and could prompt other tribes to ask for similar protections. A measure known as the Poarch Band Of Creek Indians Land Reaffirmation Act, or HR5486, is currently working its way through Congress and would similarly protect the Poarch Band Of Creek Indians in Alabama from a series of lawsuits challenging the status of its reservation.
For its part, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band Of Pottawatomi Indians recently announced that it intends to expand its 1,600-slot Gun Lake Casino with a 300-seat multi-station buffet alongside a larger gaming floor.