Chief Wawatam Park in St. Ignace, Michigan, is named for Wawatam, an Odawa leader who lived in the area in the late 1700s. Photo: Lisa Lagman Sperl

Michigan appeals court classifies Sault Tribe government as 'local' in new decision

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is considered a "local" government under the Michigan constitution, the state's appeals court ruled last week.

In an October 19 decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals acknowledged the tribe's sovereign status. But the tribe fits into the definition of a "local" government because it retains authority in "matters of local self-government," the ruling stated, quoting from Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, a well-known U.S. Supreme Court case.

As a result, anyone who was convicted of a crime while holding office or while employed in tribal government can be barred from running for office at the state or local level in Michigan, according to the court. The decision means Fred Paquin, who was convicted of a federal crime in 2010, can't run for city council in St. Ignace.

"Such a holding does not diminish or undermine the tribe’s inherent sovereign authority," a panel of three judges wrote in the decision.

Paquin was serving as the tribe's police chief and on the tribe's board of directors when he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States by dishonest means. He later sought office on two occasions in St. Ignace but was told a provision in the Michigan constitution barred him from serving.

The provision at issue applies to people who were convicted of crimes while in "local, state, or federal government." Tribal government isn't mentioned at all.

But the Michigan Attorney General issued a legal opinion which includes tribal government in the definition of "local." The court's decision relied in part on the opinion in arriving at its decision.

Read More on the Story:
Tribal Official Who Pleaded Guilty To Fraud Can't Run For Office (WMUK October 24, 2017)
Former tribal police chief can't run for city council in U.P., court rules (MLive.Com October 23, 2017)
Former UP Tribal Police Chief Ineligible To Run For City Council (9&10News October 23, 2017)
Ex-tribe police chief can't run for St. Ignace City Council (The Associated Press October 23, 2017)

Michigan Court of Appeals Decision:
Paquin v. City of Ignace (October 19, 2017)