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Invitation to Snyder, Patterson to tour our reservation lands

Lee Sprague

Lee Sprague

By Lee Sprague

L. Brooks Patterson is quoted in an article titled “Drop Dead, Detroit,” which appeared in the Jan. 2014 issue of the New Yorker as saying, “… What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and the corn.”Our people, indigenous to the Great Lakes area, have a long history of intergovernmental relations with the state of Michigan and the U.S. federal government. This is important to remember for our people, and for all the residents of the mitten state on this, the 177th anniversary of Michigan statehood.

American Indian people have always lived in Detroit and always will. Our people and nations have had more experience working with emerging governments (French-British Great Lakes in 1600s) than do the tribes of Michigan, always endeavoring to work in the best interests of people, the environment, and the development of sustainable communities and economies.

Governor Snyder’s recent proposals for Detroit’s future and L. Brooks Patterson’s comments about turning Detroit into an Indian reservation warrant some examination, context, and an exploration of what Detroit as a “reservation” might look, feel and function like.

Seven generations ago, a relative to many Michigan residents, Chief MATCH-E-BE-NASH-SHE-WISH signed the “1795 Treaty of Greenville,” ceding to the U.S. the Territories of Detroit and Chicago. Our goal and understanding of the “treaty” at the time, was to contain the “new American” settlers to the south-eastern and -western portions of Michigan.

In reality, Detroit may find reservation life rewarding and preferable to life under Snyder’s Emergency Manager appointee Kevyn Orr, as Detroit’s casinos currently pay up to 36 percent of the revenue generated to the state’s general fund, plus, many tribes pay in the range of 6-10 percent of the funds we generate to the private/quasi government Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

As we all know, the MEDC has a long history of making questionable deals and not being open about how tax dollars are spent. Under a “Detroit as a reservation” scenario, the city could become the beneficiary of upwards of 30 percent of gaming revenues generated (currently around $1,377,929,084.94 annually — source: state of Michigan 2010, the most recent published data).

This level of funding could go a long way toward restoring democracy, developing employment opportunities and training programs for native Detroiters and a chance to once again earn a living wage. This newfound revenue could help restore equitable pensions, create food security with the development of urban agriculture, and become a more effective magnet to attract new ideas and opportunities.

I believe the people of Detroit should be given the opportunity to be trained to meet the needs of the 21st century. I believe we already have the manpower and resources to meet the needs of a new Detroit, and Governor Snyder’s proposal of importing 50,000 so called “skilled” immigrants institutionalizes the loss of opportunity for Michigan citizens and is harmful to our economy in the long run.

Many government agencies have a hire veterans or Americans first policy on their books. Mr. Snyder seriously needs to consider a hire from Michigan first policy as a viable alternative to his election year rhetoric. At the very least, potential employers should have to provide a written pledge, or “attestation,” and provide proofs they made a good-faith effort to hire American workers first and they did not displace any American workers by bringing in non-U.S. employees.

Our unified dream should be to create and fund a magnet of opportunity in Detroit for our Citizens, and the elimination of Governor Snyder’s emergency manager martial law scheme, depleting Detroit of its resources and potential.We invite you to join in this conversation, to work together, and re-imagine Detroit.

I would like to extend an open invitation to Patterson, Snyder and gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer to tour our lands, and review tribal policies implemented for the benefit of the people we democratically represent. We always endeavor to hire and train local first.Patterson and Snyder may also have an interest in our equitable distribution of gaming revenues to our citizens in their best interest, as we are rebuilding too. We take the health, and welfare, of our people seriously.

Lee Sprague is the Indigenous Senior Policy Analyst and Intergovernmental Relations Advisor at the Jobs and Energy Group and a former Ogema (Chief) Tribal Council Member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. Reach him at or 616.570.1281. 

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