Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians Fail to Meet Condition for Federal Recognition

Jessica Aletor
Jessica Aletor


  • The Department of Interior has refused to grant the application of Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians federal tribe recognition.
  • According to the DOI, the tribe did not satisfy one of seven conditions to be deemed an Indian tribe.
  • This decision now gives room to Little River Band to continue with its plans to build a retail casino, should Governor Whitmer approve the proposal.

On Thursday, February 23, 2023, the US Department of Interior, in a groundbreaking decision, rejected the application of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians for recognition as a federal tribe.

This denial came almost 30 years after the group first made attempts to secure federal tribe status. According to the DOI, the tribe did not meet one of seven conditions necessary for the recognition.

The decision has also renewed the hopes of Little River Band which has been seeking to build a retail casino. We discuss the reasons for the DOI decision and its ramifications on the casino industry.

Grand River Tribe Fails to Satisfy That It Falls Within the Meaning of Indian tribe

A particularly significant aspect of the decision of the DOI to refuse the Grand River Bands federal tribal recognition has been the length of application. The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians submitted its first application to the DOI in 1994. However, the Department protracted the matter by seeking multiple extensions for its investigations. Since 2017, the DOI was said to have postponed giving a formal decision nine times.

Eventually, the DOI officially denied the tribe’s federal status on the grounds that it did not meet the definition of an Indian tribe under federal law. This condition is one of seven important requirements that the DOI considers before making a decision.

In a document containing its findings, the DOI noted thus:

“The evidence submitted by Petitioner #146 (Grand River Bands), and evidence Department staff obtained through its verification and evaluation research, is insufficient to demonstrate that Petitioner #146 meets criterion § 83.7(b). Criterion § 83.7(b) requires that ‘[a] predominant portion of the petitioning group comprises a distinct community and has existed as a community from historical times until the present. In accordance with the regulations, the failure to meet all seven criteria requires a determination that the petitioning group is not an Indian tribe within the meaning of Federal law. Therefore, the Department proposes to decline to acknowledge Petitioner #146 as an Indian tribe.” 

Had the request been successful, the tribe of approximately 500 members would have had access to special housing, education and healthcare programs.

DOI Decision Gives Hope to Little River Concerning Retail Casino

In an interesting turn of events for Little River, the decision of the DOI might just tip the scales in their favor as they seek to build a retail casino. Little River Band has nursed the intention of building a casino resort in Fruitport Township since June 2022 to complement BetRivers, its Michigan online casino brand. However, the failure to get the approval of Governor Whitmer brought the plans to a halt.

The Grand River Bands have since claimed that the land on which the proposed retail casino is to be built is their ancestral land. As such, federal recognition would have afforded the tribe the powers to make a decision on how the land could be exploited. They could even build a tribal casino for their own benefit.

It was in view of this potential conflict that Governor Whitmer rejected the bid of Little River Bands. She remarked that granting an approval while a tribal recognition claim was pending before the DOI put her in an impossible situation. However, with this new development, it is highly likely that Little River Bands will once again approach the governor to provide an update on her decision.

Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians Set to Appeal DOI Decision

The heads of the Grand River Bands tribe have wasted no time in communicating their displeasure with the decision of the DOI. According to law, they have 180 days to appeal the decision of the Department of Interior.

Ron Yob, chairman of the tribe, has communicated in unequivocal terms that his tribe would challenge the findings of the DOI and overturn its decisions. In a release, he said;

“While we disagree with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s initial findings on our petition, we are confident we can provide the additional information requested and ultimately achieve the long overdue federal recognition for our tribal members. We remain confident we will be granted federal recognition and be able to provide justice and critical resources for our members.” 

Should the appeal progress, Little River Band may have to wait till a final decision is given to approach the governor for approval.

Jessica is a news contributor to Gamble Online Michigan. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics but has over three years of experience working in the hospitality and gambling industry. Despite her core finance and investment banking background, she has been a casino feature writer for N1 Interactive Limited and multiple gambling affiliate sites. Her work has been featured on the bet365 blog, and Max Force Racing. She spends her time between Michigan and California, staying up-to-date on the latest industry developments