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We stole it, Indians bought it back, so let them use it

• Aug 3, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Port Huron's casino dreams likely suffered another setback last week when the Department of the Interior said no to what many thought was the best bet for off-reservation Indian gambling in Michigan.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians had requested that the Bureau of Indian Affairs place land it owns in downtown Lansing and near Detroit Metro Airport in trust, essentially meaning the parcels would become part of tribal reservation land. Indian tribes' compact with the state of Michigan allow them to operate casinos only on reservation land.

The tribe argues that federal law makes the process automatic: It bought the land with its money, the land adds to or enhances the tribe's holdings, and so it must be added to its reservation lands.

The bureau takes a different view of whether it adds to or enhances the tribe's reservation. It ruled that the parcels in Lansing and Wayne County's Huron Township can't possibly add to or enhance tribal lands in the Upper Peninsula.

The bureau's argument is logical — but only in a pedantic, fifth-grader sort of way.

No, the Lower Peninsula land does not make the reservation larger by buying an adjoining parcel. But it does add to and enhance the tribe's lands.

At the risk of being equally pedantic, The Sault Ste. Marie Chippewas added to their land when they bought these parcels. They certainly did not subtract from them.

More than that, the purchases enhance the reservation and the tribe's ability to thrive and make money. Building a new assembly plant enhances General Motors' bottom line, whether it is next to an existing plant or a state away. Foxconn enhances its business and its fate with a new factory in Wisconsin, which is about as far from Taiwan as it can get.

But this argument really is not about the definition of a few words in a federal law.

The bureau's decision, like the state of Michigan's continued fight against the spread of tribal gaming, is based in the unseemly illogic of racism, Puritanism and greed. Established gambling outlets, which includes the Michigan lottery, both don't want more sinful gambling and don't want more gambling competition.

Michigan was all tribal lands once. We stole it from them. They bought it back. Let them use it to their benefit.

— TIMES HERALD/PORT HURON (AP)

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