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AG Cox Opposes Agreement In Tribe's Lawsuit

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 Michigan’s attorney general is objecting to a settlement reached after five years of litigation that would grant the Saginaw Chippewa tribe some authority over land that it claimed was part of the original reservation.

The deal signed this week would put all or part of seven townships in mid-Michigan’s Isabella County under partial control of the tribe, which is known for its Soaring Eagle casino in Mount Pleasant. There are agreements on taxes, police jurisdiction and zoning, among other issues, affecting tribal members who live there.

In a court filing, Attorney General Mike Cox said the settlement represents a significant change in the relationship between the state and the tribe, and the public needs more time to digest the deal.

Cox, a Republican, said he was especially concerned about a prohibition on non-tribal police going onto tribal territory unless they were in hot pursuit or responding to an emergency.

“Such a surrender of state authority necessarily requires an act of the Legislature and cannot be accomplished by executive fiat,” Cox said Wednesday.

The Saginaw Chippewa tribe had sued Michigan in 2005, seeking to stop enforcement of certain laws against members in seven townships. The tribe says the land originally was part of its territory. It also says it’s protected by treaties from the 1800s.

Early in the litigation, attorneys representing Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration said the tribe waited too long to press its case. But with the help of a mediator, the state, joined by the county, the city of Mount Pleasant and the federal government, reached a deal.

Saginaw Chippewa members who live within the new boundaries would not pay state income tax, regardless of where they work, a benefit that applies to some other American Indians in Michigan. There also are breaks on certain sales taxes.

The agreement would not affect non-tribal members who own property in the expanded territory.

“A final settlement may help heal old wounds and build cooperative relationships that would help the governments facilitate the resolution of any future disputes as colleagues instead of adversaries,” the five parties said in a court filing Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington in Bay City is giving the public until Nov. 19 to comment.

Cox spokeswoman Joy Yearout said public input should have come before any compromise by state and local officials.

“Now citizens are being asked to object to a train that has already left the station, instead of whether or not they even wanted that train in the first place,” she said Thursday.

Matthew Fletcher, who specializes in American Indian law at Michigan State University College of Law, said the agreement is “huge.” Without a settlement, he said, it’s possible the tribe could have lost some key rulings if the case had moved forward.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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