Tribal governance on the Hannahville Indian Reservation began to gain strength and grow tremendously in the early 1990’s as Indian Gaming was introduced as an economic means to improve tribal member lives with employment and housing opportunities.
It also provided tribal government with an opportunity to control the population as well.
The tribe hired an assistant prosecutor from a neighboring county to replace the outgoing tribal member attorney from Bay Mills Indian Community. I knew him as “Mickey or Mick”. He was one of the silent champions of the tribal gaming compact negotiation with the State of Michigan. He moved on to become the Presidsent of the College on his reservation.
His replacement became nothing but a challenge to opportunities I thought belonged to tribal members. One of these was making decisions about child welfare issues occurring within the boundaries of the reservation.
Our tribe used to elect community boards every year and I was honored to have served on the Child Welfare board for one year. During that year the new tribal attorney became an adversary as we disagreed on regulatory control. In order to receive more “free funding” from the State of Michigan we needed tougher or more stringent guidelines than the Federal guidelines provided by ICWA.
I was not in support of this and felt it was taking away authority from the Child welfare board. When I questioned the new attorney about this her response was, “do you think you people are really qualified to make these descions?” I was immediately insulted as a member of that board.
I made an issue of this at our next meeting and the board decided to make all the decisions in regard to taking or leaving tribal children in homes that were experiencing dysfunctions compared to other communities. The attorney and child welfare team gave me some real nasty looks that day but for that year, the board was qualified to make decisions on its own merits, following guidelines provided by the federal government, not state.
Our resources were growing at an exponetially huge rate and budgeting needed to be established. I had to remove myself from several boards and concentrated on housing and gaming development.
Soon after the child welfare team and the attorney took back authority and implemented state standards which severely restricted tribal control of adoptions and other child welfare issues.
Tribal control was lost to implementing higher standards and the only people “qualified” were largely non-tribal people.
All for the “free funding”, our control was given over to non-tribal members again.
The child welfare board is still in existence but is merely a mouthpeice for the state of Michigan and its standards for Indian people and their children.
The political money (tribal member resources) games continue on the reservation as we continue to “disqualify” tribal members for jobs and governmental positions.
Tribal governments will never grow to protect tribal members if they continue to believe they are not qualified.
Political corruption is alive and well here, that is for sure.