Trial delayed as Michigan and Saginaw Chippewa tribe trying to settle suit

Mount Pleasant, Michigan (AP) August 2010

A judge has postponed a trial after the state and tribe said they’re working to settle a lawsuit challenging the enforcement of certain laws in parts of mid-Michigan’s Isabella County.

A trial was set for Aug. 3 in federal court in Bay City but it’s been delayed after a tentative deal was struck in July, court filings say.

The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe sued Michigan seeking to stop enforcement of civil and criminal laws against members in all or parts of seven Isabella County townships. The tribe says the land was part of its original reservation.

No details of a settlement have been disclosed. All sides say they’ll use the next six weeks to persuade the county to sign on. Lawyers for the tribe, state and the county declined to comment.

“Negotiations remain ongoing. The target date is 40 days,” said Joy Yearout, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, which is defending the state.

The Saginaw Chippewa tribe has approximately 2,750 enrolled members in Michigan and elsewhere. It is Isabella County’s largest employer, probably best known for the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant, 65 miles north of Lansing.

The lawsuit is aimed at stopping enforcement of certain laws – tax, traffic, child welfare – against tribe members on land that is not held in trust by the federal government. The tribe says it is protected by treaties from the 1800s.

The state, however, has disagreed during five years of litigation.

“Michigan has exercised jurisdiction over the alleged ‘historic Isabella reservation’ for many years without dispute. ... The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe waited over 100 years to raise its claims,” state Assistant Attorney General Todd Adams said in a court filing in 2006.