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Feds: Tribe must submit more documentation to prove it's "a distinct community"

A sign showing a map of downtown Grand Rapids prior to settlement in the foreground, with a man speaking on stage in the background.
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
Ron Yob, tribal chairman for the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, speaks at an event in downtown Grand Rapids in 2021.

A west Michigan tribe will have to submit more documentation to prove to the federal government it deserves federal recognition.

The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians has been pushing for that recognition since 1994.

“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,” said tribal chairman Ron Yob, in a statement.

The tribe says recognition is important to its members so they can be eligible for federal healthcare, tuition support and housing assistance, among other benefits. Those benefits are offered to recognized tribes as part of the federal government’s obligations under treaties. Michigan currently has 12 tribes that are federally recognized. The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians is recognized by the state, but not the federal government.

In a report announcing its findings, the Interior Department's Office of Federal Acknowledgment said the Grand River Bands hadn’t submitted enough evidence that it has been a cohesive community since the signing of the treaties in the 1800s.

“In sum, although the claims of [The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians] stem from descent from a group of historic bands, the Petitioner has not documented any activities since the treaty era that reflect a continuously existing distinct community. Rather, the evidence shows that the Petitioner came together beginning in 1995 from several independent groups,” the office wrote in its report.

The tribe now has six months to submit additional information in order to secure federal recognition.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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