Bay Mills Casino Case Heard Before U.S. Supreme Court

Dec 11, 2013

The tribal right to exercise sovereign immunity has been challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court in the Bay Mills Casino case. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe submitted and supported the request for tribal sovereign immunity to be waived in determining whether or not the Bay Mills Casino was on Indian Lands. The casino in question was opened on land purchased by Bay Mills with the proceeds of a land settlement. The land is approximately one hundred miles from the reservation, and was not determined to be eligible for gaming operations. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), urged the Department of the Interior and it's Agencies to take a leadership role on this critical legal matter by issuing a final agency decision on the land, permitting the status of the land to be determined in Federal Court and removing the issue of tribal sovereign immunity from the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In a letter from NCAI to the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), a request was sent asking NIGC reconsider the legal opinion asserting the NIGC has no jurisdiction over this disputed casino "because it is not on Indian lands" to avoid "unnecessary legal dilemma that the Supreme Court intends to resolve".

Bay Mills built the casino as a test case to determine the scope of its rights under Michigan Indian Land Claims Act. The tribe's position was that lands purchased with land claims settlement trust funds are "eligible for gaming under the settlement of a land claim". Immediately, the State of Michigan sought to close the operation, and a federal district court granted an injunction against the Tribe. On an appeal, the court held that "although the State may regulate tribal activities that occur outside Indian lands, it may not enforce those regulations by suiting the tribe itself". The court found no such waiver, held that Bay Mills could not be sued and the injunction was dissolved. The sole inquiry at the Supreme Court is concerning the state's ability to sue Bay Mills in federal court. This is an inquiry that threatens foundational tribal sovereignty and immunity principles.

Legal Counsel for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, Michele Mitchell, stated "This case has potentially damaging consequences for Indian Country. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe asked the Bay Mills tribe to waive sovereign immunity to avoid the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court making a determination on tribal sovereignty, with the potential to affect commercial activities and operations on tribal land. We requested a settlement before this made it to the courts".
The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council reassures our members we are actively following and supporting our best interests in relation to the Bay Mills Casino litigation as it relates to tribal sovereign immunity.

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