The Match-E-Be-Nash-E-Wish Ogitch-E-Daa (warriors / veterans) at the grand opening of the Gun Lake Casino expansion in Wayland, Michigan, May 2017. Photo: Gun Lake Casino

Gun Lake Tribe draws in more allies as Supreme Court considers casino case

The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe, is seeing widespread support as it defends its casino in a closely-watched U.S. Supreme Court case.

The National Congress of American Indians, Indian law scholars, a group of local governments and local interests in Michigan and even the U.S. House of Representatives are supporting the tribe. They are asking the court to uphold the legality of Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act, a 2014 law that protected the Gun Lake Casino from litigation by ensuring the site is held in trust.

"The casino and the tribe are vital to the success of the surrounding communities," Rick Mathis, a council member for the city of Wayland, one of the parties in the local interests brief, told MLive, which first reported on the filing.

The dispute arose when David Patchak, who lives about three miles from the casino, sued the Bureau of Indian Affairs for approving the tribe's land-into-trust application. But before a decision could be reached on the underlying claims in the lawsuit, the BIA acquired the land and the tribe opened the facility in February 2011.

Despite the development, the Supreme Court in June 2012 held that Patchak could still proceed with the lawsuit. The decision in Patchak v. Salazar, however, did not resolve the merits of his case.

That's when Congress stepped in. The Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act confirms that the casino site is held in trust and can't be challenged in court, essentially settling Patchak's claim that the tribe could not follow the land-into-trust process.

In July 2016, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the legality of the law in a unanimous decision. But Patchak, who has admitted he wants some sort of monetary settlement to go away, has refused to drop the case and convinced the Supreme Court to hear it.

Although the question presented in the case is tied to the U.S. Constitution and not to any particular Indian law or policy, tribal interests are paying attention. At least three land affirmation bills -- H.R.597, H.R.1491 and H.R.1532 -- are pending in the current session of Congress so a negative decision could impact those and future efforts.

Congress could always settle the matter once and for all by passing a fix to the Supreme Court's decision Carcieri v. Salazar, which opened the doors to litigation over land-into-trust application for newly recognized tribes like Gun Lake. But lawmakers have been unable to agree on a fix to the 2009 ruling.

Oral arguments in Patchak v. Zinke take place on November 7, according to Docket No. 16-498. It's the lone Indian law case currently on the docket.

Read More on the Story:
Local communities join in support of Gun Lake Casino in U.S. Supreme Court case (MLive.Com September 25, 2017)

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Patchak v. Jewell (July 15, 2016)

U.S. Supreme Court Decision:
Patchak v. Jewell (June 18, 2012)

Prior D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Patchak v. Salazar (January 21, 2011)

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