Congress Introduces Bill Potentially Granting Grand River Band Federal Recognition



  • A bipartisan bill has been introduced on the floor of the Michigan congress which aims to grant the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians federal recognition.
  • This bill comes after months-long dispute over the plans of the Little River Band tribe’s plan to build an off-reservation casino in Fruitport Township.
  • Should the legislation be effectively passed, Grand River Bands would instead be allowed to build their on-reservation casino in the township.

A new legislation is set to change the status of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians tribe. In the past two years, they have been tied into a slight complication with another tribe, Little River Band, over the development of a casino resort in Fruitport Township. In 2020, Little River Band received an approval from the Department of Interior to establish an off-reservation casino in Muskegon, where Fruitport Township is located. However, Governor Whitmer would eventually reject the tribe’s proposal due to the pending application for federal recognition submitted by the Grand River Bands. This new bill could effectively bring an end to this controversy.

Grand River Bands Could End 30-Year Wait for Federal Recognition

Should the bill scale through the next stages, the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians tribe would gain federal tribal recognition. The tribe has been seeking this recognition for almost 30 years, with its first attempt at federal recognition coming as far back as in 1994. Interestingly, the tribe was denied another application earlier this year in February with the Department of Interior citing failure to meet one of seven criteria.

The bipartisan bill which is titled the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians Restoration Act was introduced at the tail end of September. It was chiefly sponsored by Democratic Representative Hillary Scholten and Republican Rep John Moolenaar, both representing Grand Rapids and Midland, respectively. Other co-sponsors are Dan Kildee (D-Flint), Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing), Haley Stevens (D-Waterford Township), Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), Lisa McClain (R-Romeo) and Tim Walberg (R-Tipton).

Speaking about the aim of the legislation, Rep. Moolenaar praised the tribe’s contribution to the state, claiming that it was worthy of the long-overdue recognition.

“The Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians has made Michigan a better place and is worthy of full recognition from the federal government. This legislation will cut through the red tape the tribe has experienced in dealing with the Department of Interior for 23 years. It is long overdue, and I am proud to join the tribe in supporting its efforts for federal recognition,” Rep. Moolenaar said in a statement.

According to the bill, the tribe will only be granted congressional federal recognition but will not have access to federal lands. Nevertheless, federal recognition confers access to healthcare, educational tuition and housing assistance for tribe members.

Little River Band Casino Project Still Hopeful Despite New Legislation

The application of the Grand River Bands tribe for federal recognition has been the only factor stalling Little River Band’s plans to establish an off-reservation casino. Little River Band operates the Little River Casino Resort located in Manistee and sought to negotiate a pact with the state of Michigan after the US Department of Interior approved its casino establishment plans.

However, the rejection of the governor came on the grounds that the Grand River Bands would be entitled to establish their on-reservation casino in Fruitport Township if their application for federal recognition was successful. Now that Grand River Bands is closer to securing federal recognition, many believe that will diminish the chances of Little River Bands.

Interestingly, Little River Band may still nurse some hope as all is not lost on their casino project proposal which dates back to 2015. Ron Yob, the tribal chairman of Grand River Bands, told Grand Rapid Press in September that the tribe is not considering building their own casino. This would mean that Grand River Bands could voluntarily allow the Little River Band project.

Regardless of the outcome, Little River Band will still remain a leading tribal casino operator in the state. It partners with Rush Street Interactive on BetRivers Online Casino MI and a brick-and-mortar outlet is simply a plus to its successful operations.

Bill Pushed for Hearing at US House Committee on Natural Resources 

Grand River Bands was given an initial 180 days to respond to the finding of the Department of Interior which claimed that the tribe did not show that its members made up a long-existing distinct community. However, a 180-day extension was issued, bringing the tribe’s deadline to February 2024. The new legislation would mean the tribe doesn’t have to follow that route to federal recognition.

The next hurdle is getting the proposed legislation a hearing at the US House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Scholten is working on that process. On the other hand, Little River Band awaits the governor’s green flag to resubmit their casino plans.

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