John Petoskey: The Central Role of Justice Systems in Native Nation Building

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John Petoskey, citizen and longtime general counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB), discusses the key role that justice systems play in Native nation building, and provides an overview of how GTB's distinct history led it to develop a new constitution and system of governance from the ground up in the 1980s, highlighted by an independent, fully developed justice system.

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Petoskey, John. "The Central Role of Justice Systems in Native Nation Building." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 1, 2013. Presentation.

Manley Begay:

"I'd like just to welcome you. For those of you that don't know me, my name is Manley Begay. I serve as a social scientist and a senior lecturer in the American Indian Studies program and also teach a course in nation building, and so I have several of my students here from that course as well. And for those of you that are visiting, welcome to the American Indian Studies program, and Harvill 332, and to this lecture by John Petoskey; tribal attorney for many, many years with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. But before we do some formal introduction I wanted to just recognize his wife also has joined us, who's also a former council member as well. So welcome to Tucson and to the American Indian Studies program. Ian Record from the Native Nations Institute has been given the task of introducing John. John and I have known each other for many years and it's been awhile since we've seen each other. And Ian serves as a manager, one of the managers for the program at NNI and you probably see his name all over the internet. He's put together quite an interesting curriculum around issues that relate to Native nations and they do some really interesting work at the Native Nations Institute. He's also a graduate of the American Indian Studies program and he told me to say he's the first White guy to get a doctorate in AIS. He has the dubious distinction of being the first. It's good to welcome you back to AIS. So I'll give the floor to you."

Ian Record:

"Thank you, Manley. It's good to be back here. This used to be my second home, Harvill, and I don't get over here all that often. As Manley mentioned, my name is Ian Record. I got my doctorate... both my master's and my doctorate in Indian Studies, finished my doctorate in 2004. And I've been working with the Native Nations Institute since 2001 when it was first established, first as a graduate student and then I was hired full time. And one of the programs I've been involved with helping develop and get off the ground is the NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellows Program. We established it in 2008 and to date, including this week, we now have five Indigenous Leadership Fellows that have come to Tucson to share their wealth of knowledge and experience with not only NNI, but the entire U of A community. And as you see in the back, we're video recording this talk because the idea of this program is also to share that knowledge, wisdom, and experience with the outside world, with the general public at large and obviously specifically tribal communities and we are very honored to welcome John Petoskey this week to serve as our latest Indigenous Leadership Fellow. We've had John on our radar for quite a long time. Manley mentioned that he goes way back with John. John is one of the first people that Manley and Stephen Cornell and Joseph Kalt ran into when they started doing this on-the-ground research about nation building and about why some tribes are really moving forward while they continue to struggle in terms of achieving their goals. We're lucky to have John with us here this week. He's doing a talk here today obviously, but he's also doing another talk tomorrow over at the U of A Law School and I have some flyers here in case anyone's interested in learning about that, you may have seen it on email. It's tomorrow afternoon over at the Rountree Building and he's going to be talking about the Bay Mills case, which a lot of you have probably seen if you read Indians.com or go to Indian Country Today's website. There's been a lot of chatter, a lot of articles about this case, which is going to be heard by the Supreme Court I think in early December."

John Petoskey:

"December 2nd."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, December 2nd. It could have major implications for tribal sovereign immunity and for tribal jurisdiction and a whole host of other issues that John will address tomorrow. He's here today to talk about nation building. John, as you probably saw in the email that went out in his bio, has been serving as general counsel for the Grand Traverse Band for upwards of 30 years, and has sort of been at the helm working with the leadership of his nation through a lot of major developments, through the reaffirmation... the federal re-recognition if you will of Grand Traverse as a federally recognized tribe, the development of their constitution, the ongoing work they've been doing to develop their legal infrastructure, which is not necessarily the sexiest part of nation building and governance, but it's... some could argue it's the most important part. And so John is here to share his knowledge with you and share the Grand Traverse story about what they've done and what they continue to do to make sure that they have the rules and institutions in place in order to move their nation and community forward. So without further ado, John Petoskey."

John Petoskey:

"Thank you. First of all I'd like to do a few caveats and limitations. I only know a very small part of a very large area of law, federal Indian law, and I only know a very small part of that area geographically, which is Grand Traverse Band and Michigan, the Michigan tribes. And so a lot of my discussion by reason of my limited knowledge is going to be focused on Grand Traverse Band and the small area that I'm familiar with. I am admitted to the New Mexico Bar and I did practice in Alaska for a while and I'm familiar with some of those problems, but that was more than 30 years ago. So I don't have any relevant recent experience in those two states that I practiced in in the past and so for all practical purposes the beginning and end of my life is in Michigan. Having said that, I wanted to quickly describe that life in terms of its history.

Grand Traverse Band is a product like every other tribe of its own unique history. Grand Traverse Band is the signatory of two different treaties, the 1836 and the 1855 treaty along with several other tribes in Michigan, five other tribes in Michigan, and in Michigan we always go like this when you're saying where you're from and Michigan is shaped like a hand. Detroit's down here and so Grand Traverse Band is up here, it's the little finger. It's an area that the exterior boundaries of the original reservation was 87,000 acres. It was established in an 1855 treaty. It was the precursor of the Dawes Act in that at that time the tribes were subject to removal. In fact all of the southern tribes in Michigan were removed along with the tribes in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the southeast of Oklahoma. So you have a lot of Ottawas, Potawatomis and out in Oklahoma that have reservations that were removed from southern Michigan. The northern Michigan Ottawas and the northern Michigan Chippewas were fearful that they were going to be removed from Michigan and they negotiated for permanent homelands in 1855, which was a modification of the 1836 treaty. The 1836 treaty ceded a whole area of Michigan to the United States and it created reservations that were temporally limited and the 1855 treaty created these permanent reservations in which Grand Traverse Band, Little River Band, Little Traverse Band were to have communities and to become permanent homes. When the dominant society imposes its... this is not an original thought, this is a thought by Monroe Price who wrote a lot of the article now 35 years ago that was relevant when I was in Alaska.

The Dawes Act in 1887 was converting the common method of governance or making a living of a small time farmer and trying to impose that onto Indian tribes to turn all Indian tribes into small time farmers so it was a wholesale conversation and it failed, the Dawes Act, by everybody's admission of failed. The only reason I bring that up is that 30 years before that Grand Traverse Band went through that. In 1855 we were created a reservation in which it was to be allotted to 80 acres and 40 acres for our ancestors and it was the pilot program if you will for the Dawes Allotment Act. The program failed on a large scale. The tribe was dispossessed from its reservation and by 1880 we were essentially destitute. In 1872 the Secretary of the Interior of person in Columbus Delano opined that a provision in the 1855 treaty, which provided that the Ottawa Chippewa tribe would go out of existence after the allotments had been issued, issued a letter of determination that all of the tribes in Michigan were no longer under federal jurisdiction, there was no trust responsibility and essentially the tribes were not offered any services at 1871 as federal government... as units of government. The federal government was still there in terms of offering medical services and educational services. For example, my parents and my wife's mother and other people did go to Indian boarding schools, but that was all based upon the Snider Act of half blood or above and you would receive services and so they all went to boarding schools.

I give this history because it's a historical basis of how the tribe developed. We were not federally recognized in 1871, and for this time period until 188o we were dispossessed. In the 1930s we tried to reestablish our federal recognition through the Indian Reorganization Act. It was denied not on the basis that we weren't Indian tribes that had a historical treaty relationship with the United States, but it was denied on the basis of insufficient funds. In the 1950s with the Indian Claims Commission Act that was established for unconscionable dealings through treaty negotiations, Indian tribes could be plaintiffs or recognized tribal groups could be plaintiffs. And so a group of the Indian Bar for the Indian Claims Commission came to Michigan and established an organization called the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association. And what the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association was was the old reservations that were established under the 1855 treaty, the Little River Band, the Grand Traverse Band and the Little Traverse Bay Band. Those three Ottawa tribes were then a plaintiffs group that intervened and filed a case that later turned into a judgment in 1971, an ICC judgment in which there was found that the 1836 treaty did not fully compensate the tribes for the taking of the land and a judgment was entered and that's a separate story. But my point is is that there was this group of three tribes together called the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association.

In 1973, the U.S. Attorney filed a case on behalf of the Bay Mills Indian Community, which was established by the Indian Reorganization Act in the 1930s as a federally recognized tribe. That was the only tribe in the 1836 treaty area. The Bays Mills Indian Group lived on a bay in the Upper Peninsula called the White Fish Bay and they had a local history of fishing and there was the oral tradition that the 1836 treaty had recognized off reservation fishing rights. The U.S. Attorney in 1973 agreed with the tradition that the tribe urged on him that they had 1836 treaty fishing rights under Article 13 and also the U.S. Attorney had as a model the U.S. vs. Washington case, which had been in litigation for a number of years that was essentially the same proposition. In fact, when I graduated from law school and worked on U.S. vs. Michigan in the 1970s, you could literally go through and see some of the pleadings in the United States vs. Michigan case, the arguments, and you would find those same arguments in the U.S. vs. Washington pleading file. That was before cut and paste and everybody had to do it on a Selectric and so everybody was typing arguments from Selectrics from the U.S. vs. Washington case that was litigated in the early "˜70s. So the United States filed this case on behalf of Bay Mills alleging that off reservation treaty rights still continued to exist in the Great Lakes and that Bay Mills...the Bay Mills Indian Community was the recipient of those rights. In 1975, the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians was administratively recognized by an act of the area director of first the State of Michigan and then the regional director of the BIA. Now there wasn't any statutory authority at that time for the BIA to do what it did, but it did recognize Sioux St. Marie as a existing Indian tribe over the objections of the Bay Mills Indian Community because the Bay Mills Indian Community argued that the Sioux St. Marie Tribe was a sub-band of the Bay Mills Indian Community. That's a separate story.

In any event, there was another tribe recognized in 1975 and they intervened in the U.S. vs. Michigan case on off-reservation treaty fishing. You have to keep in mind at that time what was driving this was that you could really pull out a lot of money out of the lake. The lakes were very, very productive. The fish were at their maximum value. If you had a gang of gill nets they're called, you could literally pull your way to riches by sticking them in the water and pulling out the fish and selling them in competition that did not exist because the state had taken the position that all commercial fishing on the Great Lakes was outlawed and it was all sports fishery. And so the population of the Great Lakes commercial fish exploded and private tribal entrepreneurs were capitalizing on that by going out and fishing in the lakes and arguing that they could do that without regulation by the state. The state was arguing that "˜No, they had to be regulated by the state,' and much similar to the United States vs. Washington case. Northern Michigan Ottawa fishermen then said, "˜Well, there's the bonanza. We've got to intervene.' And so they intervened in the case and were dismissed because they were not federally recognized. At that time a fisherman from Grand Traverse Bay called Arthur Duhamel, argued that our tribe should no longer participate in NMOA [Northern Michigan Ottawa Association] and seek federal recognition on its own, which we did. And at that time, I don't know how much history you have done in this class, but the Indian Policy Review Commission had completed a study of non-federally recognized tribes and had issued a report that the federal government had the authority to recognize tribes and that they should do the CFR process, "˜a federal regulations process,' to recognize tribes that had treaty relationships. And so the federal regulations for federal recognition were promulgated. Grand Traverse Band was the first tribe to go over the hurdle and meet all of the requirements to be federally recognized. We had a reservation, we still had residual land that was no longer trust land, but it was from that reservation. We had clearly identified annuity payments from the treaty in 1910, we had a tribal roll in the 1880s and 1871 that came from the earlier treaties, and so we had a very detailed history that we were under federal jurisdiction at one time and taken out of federal jurisdiction in 1872, and that the federal trust relationship recognizing us as a tribe should be re-established. So we were re-established as a federal tribe in 1980 and intervened in U.S. vs. Michigan, which is a separate story that continues today because that case has continued since 1973 and still continues today. It's a series...it's morphed into inland hunting and fishing, it's morphed into 300-page consent decrees where the tribes regulate off reservation fishing and regulate inland hunting and fishing and the tribes...when I say tribes, there were LTB [Little Traverse Bay bands of Odawa Indians] and LRB [Little River Band of Ottawa Indians] were later recognized by federal statute in 1997, and so there are five tribes that now basically argue over the division of the resources that are available for off-reservation treaty fishing and also for the division of the resources for inland hunting and fishing and gathering rights. That's a separate issue and it's ongoing.

But getting to the point of this conversation or this lecture is Native nation building and justice systems. So you had a...we had a blank slate somewhat if I may in 1980 because we were federally recognized and we had to create a government and creating the government at that time was following the IRA model of creating a constitution and defining that constitution in terms of what our tribe thought should be in the constitution for governance. Also, in that constitution we got into a dispute with the federal government over the scope of our membership criteria. We argued with the feds that our members, under the federal recognition of 1980, included all Ottawas south of the bridge. The federal government's position, which was Ronald Reagan at the time and James Watt was, "˜That's way too many Indians because that's going to be a big financial drain to have all those Indians,' and so we were in eight years of litigation over the scope of our membership. That was ultimately settled in a compromise solution in which we agreed to limit the scope of our membership to the annuity payments from Grand Traverse Band and all of the members that lived within our area that regardless of whether they were LRB or LTB, they could still be a member of GTB even though their ancestry was traced from LTB. So you have the anomalous situation; it's not anomalous, but you have the situation now where the majority of the tribal councilors on the Grand Traverse Band tribal council historically descend from Little Traverse Bay Band and not from Grand Traverse Bay Band because they were living in the area and joined the tribe at the time. Myself for example, my father's from LTB, my mother is from Grand Traverse Band, but there are other members on the, not on the council, but there are other members on the tribal council whose both parents are from LTB, but they were living in our Grand Traverse Band area and they were part of the compromise that allowed them to be a member of Grand Traverse Band.

I say that because a lot of our governance systems were not really implemented, because the federal government asserted that they were not going to fund our government through the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] unless we acquiesced to their assertions of what our membership should be in our tribal constitution. And so it took us a long time to get to a constitution that would initiate tribal council elections, that would [resolve] disputes because once you have elections and you have people running for office, you're going to have disputes, and we've had our share of disputes -- quite a bit. And in building a constitution, we established the proposition that the judiciary is a separate branch of government and it's tough being a judge in Indian Country. It's tough being a judge any place, but it's particularly tough if you're an Indian judge and you're related to most of the community or you grew up in that area. And so what a lot of tribes do, which I'm sort of jumping around in my presentation, but a lot of tribes do provide an option in their constitutions...I'm not certain how far in the west this is, but I know in Michigan it's very common...where they do provide an option for lawyers to be their tribal judge...judges. And if you look at the Southwest Appellate Court for example, you have Frank Pommershein, you have Rob Williams, you have people that are non-Indians, they're very knowledgeable about Indian law, but they're tribal judges and they're on the tribal appellate court. Now if you...and when you...the problem from my perspective that that creates is it almost handicaps the legitimacy function of the judiciary, because if you're on the street, reservation-level Indian, and you're being judged for a crime on the reservation by a non-Indian lawyer judge, you're less likely to accept the legitimacy of that decision. And there's not a whole lot of discussion in the academic community about that consequence of non-Indian lawyers acting as tribal judges and it's a discussion that I think should take place, because in the best of all possible worlds it's an Indian tribal member that should be the judge and not a non-Indian lawyer. Just to take a thought experiment for example, how many tribes would allow a non-Indian lawyer to be on their tribal council? Nobody. I mean nobody would allow that. And so when you're talking about building legitimate systems, part of the legitimate system is having legitimacy from the ground up, which means being a member of the tribe, being familiar with the community, and not being a non-Indian lawyer who is sympathetic, who has detailed knowledge of the tribe, but when they come in they have a strike against them in terms of the legitimacy of their opinions and decisions. And I've seen that happen again and again at Grand Traverse Band, at Little Traverse Bay Band, at Little River and at other places. There's a professional cadre of tribal judges that are Indian law lawyers that are non-Indians that serve on appellate courts and I thank them for their service, but I'm just saying in terms of legitimacy, it doesn't work very well when their tribal member citizen is being judged by a non-member lawyer. Having said that, I don't think that you can get away from that situation -- at least Michigan cannot get away from that situation -- without building up the human capital corpus of tribal communities to act in those positions as tribal judges.

So what is the...the other point I wanted to bring out in building a justice system is that, and in the context of Grand Traverse Band, a lot of people use the phrase that you don't want the judiciary system to be influenced by politics, and to me, I don't think politics is a necessarily evil word. I think politics is part and parcel of a tribal Indian community because the tribal council represents constituents in a community that are politically driven. They represent a community that is in large measure seeking redress for damages that they've suffered either individually or historically and they want a remedy for pain that they have and the only place that they see the remedy for that pain is to go to their elected council member and say, "˜I want this,' and sometimes their wants can be filled and sometimes they cannot and they do do that same situation when they disagree with a tribal opinion. They'll go to their council member and they'll say, "˜Get rid of that judge. He made a bad decision or she made a bad decision because they found me...they convicted me when I shouldn't have been convicted.' Building a strong system should be able to withstand criticisms like that.

At Grand Traverse Band, we have not gotten rid of a judge when somebody has come in and said, "˜The judge made a terrible decision because the judge found me guilty.' The judge is still there, but the politics of the judge's reappointment certainly came into play because the council, and I've told the council this, "˜You can't reverse the court's decision. You can appeal it or you cannot appoint the individual at the next appointment process,' and they've certainly done that because there are judges that made bad decisions who I thought, and there was one judge in particular who was a non-Indian, he was very intelligent, he wrote very good opinions and he made a couple of decisions that the council didn't like when they wanted to get rid of him and my advice was, "˜You can't get rid of them. You can get rid of them for judicial misconduct, malfeasance in office, things like that. You don't have it here. You have to wait until his term runs out, don't reappoint him. That's what you can do. Or you can appeal the decision that he made.' Appealed the decision he made, the decision was upheld, they had to wait him out, his time came up, he wasn't reappointed. And that's a legitimate exercise of politics, that's politics. That's politics on the council side and in my view that's legitimate. That's a legitimate exercise of politics because they're acting as legitimate representatives of the community objecting to a decision made by a judge and part of that judge's decision, the illegitimacy that is added that isn't very...that isn't said in an academic forum, but certainly is said in a tribal community forum and if you're from a tribal community I know you've heard this, "˜What is that non-Indian doing making this decision about our Indian community?' If you're from an Indian community, you've heard that and when you get into a non-Indian environment, it just seems to disappear, people don't mention that, but I think it should be mentioned because it is part of the legitimacy of the judiciary and non-Indian judge lawyers should recognize that and be sensitive to that and some of them are.

The other thing on nation building is -- excuse me for skipping around on this area -- but the other thing on nation building is the development of tribal codes. It is so difficult developing tribal codes. Grand Traverse Band has now, since 1980, 33 years of experience. Our tribal code is probably 1,000 pages long. It covers very complex areas of the law, covers complex relations that regulate internal tribal politics, internal family politics, it transfers large amounts of money to individuals, and it transfers housing to individuals, it transfers medical care to individuals, it transfers educational benefits to individuals. It's really a transferring organization and part of politics of building a nation is you're always going to argue over the scope of the transfer, the amount, the eligibility, etc.. But the thing that has to be established is it should not be indeterminate. It should be a determinate transfer and rather than saying that something is politically driven, the way I like to characterize it is if something is indeterminate, that you can't tell what's going to happen in the future given your situation, that is what is wrong, that's the evil because you can argue about the politics of the situation, but it has to be a determinate process where people can come in and understand what was the basis of the decision in the past, and what will be the basis of the decision in the future. At Grand Traverse Band, we have something similar to an Administrative Procedures Act [APA] for the development of our tribal code, of writing our codes, posting them and getting comments from our community and then only enacted after there are comments and those comments are reacted to. If you're familiar with...and that's where we got the process, from the Administrative Procedures Act. It was a scaled-down process of the APA. There's no appeal like there is in APA, but it's a scaled-down process to get community participation.

In other cases where's it's a hotly contested issue, for example, revenue allocation ordinances, which are permitted under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, in order to do per capita distributions to tribal members you have to establish a revenue allocation ordinance [RAO]. Grand Traverse Band did that prior to the publication of the CFR [Code of Federal Regulations] rules governing revenue allocation ordinances and we created a committee of community members with members of the tribal council on the committee and we kept track of the proceedings and we created...this was before computers...not before computers, but as the use of computers on an every day basis. But we have a legislative history of the RAO for example. We have...there were probably 20 meetings of the RAO and there were comments and selections made by tribal members at each of those meetings, participants of why certain decisions were made. And so it's a chronological legislative history of the development of the final RAO. And so there's a basis to go back and figure out why the tribe made certain decisions at that time.

We did the same thing with a number of other statutes that were hotly contested, creating committees to establish the legitimacy from the ground up by participation with community members. The one issue that was very contentious was membership. We rewrote the membership ordinance and if you follow Indian Country at all you know that membership disputes generally take place when there's per capita and there's not anybody clamoring to get into a poor Indian tribe if they're poor. They're not doing that. That's just not realistic. It's driven by the same thing that drove the initial federal recognition, pulling money out of the lake, pulling money out of the casino. It's gaming in the lake, it's gaming at the casino, it's pulling money out of it and it's clamoring to get in. So that was a contentious issue and we had the same level of legislative history detail in developing our membership ordinance. And the politics will go any which way, but the important point is to make something that is indeterminate determinate, not something where membership is predicated upon some person soliciting a tribal council member and then some council member showing up at a meeting called without notice and an opportunity and then moving to admit somebody with something that wasn't on the agenda to begin with. That is the sort of thing that is a clear violation of procedural due process for the other property interests of the other tribal members.

Grand Traverse Band has its code published at the NARF [Native American Rights Fund] website. It's free and available to other tribes. We also make our documents on our personnel policy free and available to other tribes. We make our documents on our minimum internal controls. In fact, when LTBB [Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians] and LRB -- who are our competitors -- first opened up, they got all of their documents on how to operate a casino from us without charge to operate their facilities. We are now implementing a new procedure with the tribal council where our meetings are going to be real time video graphed by...so the community can participate at remote sites and they can also have the information at their fingertips. One other thing that we did that was very, very helpful, incident to a case that we were involved in, Grand Traverse Band vs. the United States, on the scope of restored lands for casino gaming, because it was such a high-value case, we took all of the old minutes that the tribe had from its inception and put them into a database. At that time it was, Iron Mountain was the name of the company and the database was called 'Concordance,' which we still use, but that is extraordinarily helpful for a community and for the tribal councilors because now they ask the question, "˜Well, what does Concordance say,' when something comes up because they can get that...we can get that information immediately. All of the councilors have iPads. All of the meetings are conducted on iPads where they have access to the statutes, to the agendas, to the documents. Everything is iPad-ready, searchable, and now it's going to be recordable. The common denominator in all of that is transparency and transparency across the board.

The tribal court has published all of its opinions, has published all of its court rules. We have relatively good judges. We have some non-Indian judges, two non-Indian judges, who are not tribal members who are sensitive to some of the concerns that I stated earlier. We have a recently appointed appellate judge that is a stellar star if you're familiar with Indian law and that's Matthew Fletcher. He's our chief appellate judge as of about eight days ago. He was a former attorney that worked in the general counsel's office for four years and Matthew was phenomenally adept as most of you may or may not know in terms of his productivity and his knowledge of the minutia of Indian law in terms of litigation. But he doesn't have that same level of facility with the minutia of Indian law in terms of legislation and that's really what I would like to see sort of developed, and NARF has sort of developed that by placing all the codes online where people can go and pick and choose from different...steal from other people is what I'm saying. Don't sit down and try to write a code on the children's code or try to write a gaming regulation code or public departments code, because it's too difficult to do something from the ground up when you can just take it from somebody else and adapt it to your circumstances. The caveat on that is if you don't understand what you're doing from the ground, it's not going to work for you, but if you do understand what you're doing from the ground up then you can choose and select these codes that are applicable to your unique situation and that's what building a nation, in my view, that's what building a Native nation is, is building these justice systems that are determinate. In other words, people will know that good, bad or indifferent, they're going to abide by the judgment. They may object to the judgment or they may applaud the judgment, but they'll live with the judgment. I'll give you an example.

We recently had a very contentious dispute between contiguous property owners on the intestate death of a tribal member, and his son was arguing that he controlled the property and the house. The sister to the brother argued that while the brother was alive that he had deeded it to the niece of...then the niece happened to be the daughter of this other person. So they were just at each other's throats over this on who had the right to that particular house and it went to court. There were good arguments on both sides. The judge ruled that the intent of the uncle was to deed it to his niece, that the intestate succession did not apply and the pre-emption under probate law of a son's right did not apply and the party stopped. After the decision came out, the guy that was making such the big stink about living there and he was going to win, etc., etc., he moved out. He said, "˜Well, that's it. It's over.' So he moved out and the parties moved on.

I can think of other instances where that has occurred. We had a tribal councilor that did self dealing and so we initiated removal proceedings in tribal court against him and he contested that this was not self dealing and so there was a tribal court proceeding on whether or not it was self dealing, contested questions of fact, it was highly litigated, and the court found that it was self dealing and that he should be removed from office for self dealing and the person said, "˜That's fine,' and moved on. At election disputes, very contentious election disputes, in which people lost offices, won offices, but nobody's going out in the street and saying, "˜We're going to protest, we're going to take over the office by force.' Everybody's abiding by the decision and they're arguing though that the decision is wrong, but they're not arguing that the power to make the decision is illegitimate. Nobody's arguing that. They are arguing that the decision is wrong, not that the power to make it is wrong. And that's very hard to do because in Michigan, not to point out Michigan too much, but there was another tribe in Michigan, this is well known in Michigan circles at least, in which a tribe and the judiciary got into a fight and the judiciary had the tribal council literally arrested. They arrested the whole lot of the tribal council, put them in jail and the tribal attorney had to file a federal habeas corpus petition to get his clients out of incarceration. To have those situations, it's what you want to avoid obviously.

But I think that's about the end of my talk. It's just steal from other people, is the end result and don't...it's not an easy answer. They're not easy answers."

Ian Record:

"Thank you, John. We have some time for questions for John. I think about 10 or 12 minutes. He covered a lot of ground, so I'm sure there are some questions out there. Any first volunteers? Yes."

Audience member:

"Does Public Law 280 fit?"

John Petoskey:

"No, it doesn't. We're a non-280 state. I should have said that. I'm sorry."

Audience member:

"So you said when you created the constitution of your tribe it was at those first stages where it was created that the judicial branch is separate."

John Petoskey:

"Right."

Audience member:

"So with a tribe that already has a constitution basically off of the IRA structure, but what would you...I think what's very difficult is when a tribe wants to say, "˜Alright, let's rewrite our constitution to the point we can get our judicial branch separate,' that is very hard because it seems like, in order to do that, you need the political backing to start the process. So with that being said, what's your advice on that or as far as does it just depend on who's the person in office that's going to say, "˜Alright, attorney, you have my support to start rewriting everything to say the court's going to be separate.'"

John Petoskey:

"Well, if it's an IRA constitution and you want a separate judicial branch, then you have to go through a secretarial election to change the constitution and there are CFR procedures for doing that, which I'm sure you're familiar with. On the political question of whether you have the support of the community, that's a question that I can't answer because that's a question that relates directly to that particular community. I can tell you at...the one thing I did not mention is at Grand Traverse Band when we did the constitution, we didn't create a three-branch government, we created a two-branch government with the tribal council acting in a combined executive-legislative capacity and the judiciary as a separate branch. So it's really a two-branch government, it's a little different."

Audience member:

"How important is it for the Grand Traverse Band to incorporate tribal core values into development of its laws and how does the tribe accomplish that if that's indeed a goal?"

John Petoskey:

"In the development of its statutory laws or its case law?"

Audience member:

"Statutory laws."

John Petoskey:

"Well, the process of writing a statute is a process of making a choice and so to the extent...to be perfectly honest, I can't think of a...a lot of the statutes that I worked on are very complex, detailed statutes dealing with complex subject matter. I mean housing, gaming, membership. Membership, for example, maybe that incorporated some of the values on what is the scope of your family community feelings and in the child code we do have termination of parental rights. There was a big argument over whether or not the tribe should have termination of parental rights within its own code and that was based on cultural arguments that the tribe was making between the council members back and forth that that provision should be in there or shouldn't be in there and so that's an ongoing dialogue in the particular instance. It's not...I can't give you a categorical answer, because each instance of where you're making a choice to include or exclude brings up that issue of the values of the legislature and the value of the legislature reflect the values of the community."

Audience member:

"As a general counsel for the tribe, how did you find your role in integrating that discussion for council?"

John Petoskey:

"Give them option A, option B, option C and whoever has the majority votes wins. That's what my role is. A council member with one particular point of view will request a statute to be written for his point of view. Other council members will say, "˜Well, you can't do that so don't write the statute that way,' and I go back to the council and say, "˜I really need direction on a majority vote of a motion, since the council under our constitution operates by motion, ordinance or resolution, that I should be writing this statute from this particular point of view,' and if I don't get the motion, then I don't write the statute. If I get the motion, then I write the statute. That doesn't mean that the statute's enacted, that just means that the bill is written and then there's an argument of whether or not to enact the bill. The recent case that comes to mind is one council member has requested that I write a bill on the election code and other council members have orally stated, "˜Our constitution provides that election processes are controlled by an election board so we should not be writing a code.' That's a situation that I'm going to take back to council and say, "˜I really do need a motion on this because one council member has requested a bill and other council members have said no dice.' And so it's either four against or three for. Whatever it is, I need...I don't have the authority to do it independent of that...of one person asking me to do it."

Ian Record:

"John, one quick follow up on that. You mentioned statutory law in clarifying your question. You and I were talking this morning and you mentioned that you guys have worked very hard to instill core values into your case law in particular and that Matthew Fletcher actually put together a [restatement of Grand Traverse Band common law]. And I think it's available online."

John Petoskey:

"It is."

Ian Record:

"Basically it tracks the articulation of Grand Traverse Band common law through the cases that it..."

John Petoskey:

"It's called a restatement. It's a restatement of Grand Traverse Band common law and it was written by Matthew Fletcher and his brother Zeke, which takes the 150 case law opinions and then writes a restatement of Grand Traverse Band, which I don't know if any other tribe has done that, has written a comprehensive restatement. And you can argue about the particulars, whether or not in his decision on what the case held is correct or incorrect, which I have done on certain cases, but my point is that in the scope to make things transparent, we have put all of our cases on WestLaw, we have put our cases on VersusLaw, we have put them in hard copy in the local law libraries, we have our court rules published on the same basis and the court is considering putting its proceedings on camera also, but that's a rule-making function of the total court to do that."

Akenabah Begay:

"How difficult is it to get rid of your tribal judges?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, we did have a one removal petition for a judge that was authorized by the tribal council and it went to trial. And under incorporation by reference of Michigan case law, you can request a psychological evaluation of a judge that you think is nuts and it was a legitimate request and so that's what I did. And once that came up then the other...the judge, the particular judge, wanted to settle the case because she thought it was an affront to her capacity as a judge even to have that question posed to her. But it was not under Michigan law. You can go through a psychological evaluation of a judge relating to misconduct in office to determine whether or not she is psychologic...or this particular judge was psychologically fit for office and it was a legitimate request."

Akenabah Begay:

"So the tribal council can't fire a judge?"

John Petoskey:

"Oh, no."

Akenabah Begay:

"Okay."

John Petoskey:

"No. They wouldn't...no, they cannot."

Akenabah Begay:

"Okay."

John Petoskey:

"Maybe I didn't get that point across."

Akenabah Begay:

"I took Dr. Begay's class and he said for a stable judicial system it would be best to have judges not be easily removed."

John Petoskey:

"It's...right, and I can say that I have had requests from individual members of the tribal council to fire a judge and my response is, "˜Well, you can't fire a judge because of this opinion that you disagree with. You can appeal it or you can exercise the power of appointment when their term is up or you can do a removal petition,' and those are all permissible exercises of the council's authority when they're dissatisfied with a judge."

Audience member:

"What would be your take on tribes developing their own general counsel as opposed to contracting out to law firms?"

John Petoskey:

"Oh, I think they should. I think it's cheaper to have a general counsel in house and it's a better way of representing the tribe and the more you work the general counsel the cheaper it gets."

Manley Begay:

"Are plans being laid to improve the judicial system? I know a lot of tribes are moving toward establishing business courts or children's court or youth court or constitutional courts and so forth as a way to sort of speed up the process of various types of issues."

John Petoskey:

"Well, the judiciary at Grand Traverse Band has experimented with that. We do have an arbitration provision in our waiver of sovereign immunity under contracts and we have had arbitration for contract disputes on major construction projects and the arbitration award then is enforced by the tribal court, but the tribal court doesn't deal with a construction defect litigation because we write our contracts for arbitration and in arbitration you have arbitrators who are familiar with construction issues and we have gone through arbitration. So that's one way we have attempted to...when I say we, I'm speaking very broadly, the GTB judiciary has attempted to establish peacemaking courts and attempted to...and has that and has used that for resolving family disputes and has attempted to establish a drug court for recalcitrant offenders or first-time offenders who may not turn into recalcitrant offenders."

Audience member:

"As far as the criteria for a tribe appointing a judge for your tribe, is it...do they have to have a law degree and must they speak the language or..."

John Petoskey:

"No. I don't speak the Indian language and I would venture to say 95 percent of our tribal members do not speak the Indian language. My parents did and I was...when I was given this history I was explaining probably why we suffer from this language deficit because our communities were destroyed. Having said that, I think that the language in Michigan is certainly being revitalized by community efforts to maintain it, but in terms of appointment to the tribal judiciary, it's very limited. You have to be 18, a tribal member or an attorney, and that's my point is you go from one extreme to the other and I think that there should be a more detailed process on the appointment of tribal judges to create greater legitimacy. In the hierarchy or the paradigm of what is the best, it would be a tribal member who is a practicing attorney with substantial experience. That would be the best type of tribal judge to have and particularly one that is not going to end up in personal problems in his or her own life, because when you're in an Indian community and if you're from that community, you have so many problems coming at you from your employment and from your family members and your extended family members that it's difficult to be...lead a life that doesn't intersect with all these other problems."

Audience member:

"So the tribal council appoints the judges?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes."

Audience member:

"What are your thoughts about elected judges? I don't know very many tribes that do that but...because I can see the politics..."

John Petoskey:

"There are places in Michigan that do do elected judges. My thought is...I don't know. I would...I don't know. I mean, there are arguments for it and arguments against it. In the states there are elected judges, there are also judges that are pass...that have to pass a panel. The federal system does not elect judges, they have the political appointment process and there was a movement in Grand Traverse Band where a person who had been in front of the tribal court on a number of occasions for various reasons, did start a campaign for elected tribal judges and part of his campaign related to his incarceration as the result of being in front of the tribal judge and he said, "˜I don't mind being in jail, but I want to be in jail by somebody that I helped appoint.'"

Ian Record:

"One final question over here."

Audience member:

"I was just curious, I notice you had involvement with the gaming compacts up in Michigan."

John Petoskey:

"Yes."

Audience member:

"Is there a reciprocity clause up there between...where certain cases will be held whether it's going to be the state or..."

John Petoskey:

"No, there's no reciprocity, not like...Wisconsin and California have those, but we don't. This is the gaming compact of 1993. The compact was 12 pages long and it was in existence until 19...until today, 20 years and we're currently in compact negotiations. I think it's going to be much longer this time around."

Audience member:

"Is there any possibility there might be something like that in terms of where..."

John Petoskey:

"Well, we do have...I did neglect to mention this. In Michigan we did...it was mainly at the behest of Mike Petoskey who is my cousin, who is an admitted lawyer and a long time tribal judge and works... and was our tribal judge at Grand Traverse Band for 18 years and so he was at the helm there for quite a long time. He's now a tribal judge for other judges in Michigan, but I only bring him up because he became a good friend with Justice Cavanaugh who was on the Michigan Supreme Court and who was head of the Rules Committee. And Mike and Justice Cavanaugh fashioned Michigan Court Rule 2615, which provides reciprocity between Michigan state court orders and tribal court orders if the tribal court adopts a rule that is similar to the Michigan court rule and they're covering equal protection and due process and other standards for full faith and credit, so it's no longer an issue of trying to enforce a tribal court order on a full faith and credit basis and then going through to get the judgment domesticated if you will in another forum's jurisdiction. It's an automatic process right now because we have that parallel rule of reciprocity. The state has 2615 and the state court and the tribal court enforce each other's orders as a matter of routine now."

Audience member:

"Thank you."

Ian Record:

"Well, thank you very much again, John."

John Petoskey:

"Thank you."

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In the first of two interviews conducted in conjunction with his tenure as NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow, John Petoskey, citizen and long-time General Counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB), discusses how GTB has worked and continues to work to build and maintain…

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In the second of two interviews conducted in conjunction with his tenure as NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow, John Petoskey, citizen and long-time General Counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB), discusses the legal doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity and the…

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A Restatement of the Common Law of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians

From 1872 until 1980 the United States government continually refused to recognize the sovereign status of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB). Citizens of the Grand Traverse Band unsuccessfully attempted to regain this government-to-government relationship in 1933 and 1943…