The Huron Potawatomi’s first response to the Obvious Deficiency Review Response letter (OD) sent in the fall of 1987, was submitted a little over three years later but was withdrawn by the Tribal Council in July 1992.

On July 11, 1992, a newsletter summarized the result of a recent community meeting by highlighting an NHBP unanimous vote, where the attendees agreed “that HPI continue to seek Federal acknowledgment in keeping with the group’s constitution…”

BAR received a second response to the OD letter on February 5, 1993.

The petition was declared ready for active consideration on February 5, 1993, and was placed on active consideration July 27, 1993. Because of staffing problems within the BAR, a six-month extension of the active consideration period, to December 27, 1994, was requested and granted by the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs.

A second extension for preparation of the Proposed Finding, to February 27, 1995, was also requested and granted, as was a third to April 25, 1995.

On December 19, 1995, the United States government restored “federal recognition” to the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.

Watch Video Celebrating NHBP Federal Reaffirmation

Tribal members traveled from Michigan to Washington D.C., to take part in the historic signing of the federal reaffirmation of the Tribe. Current Tribal Council Vice Chair Dorie Rios, who was 21 at the time, remembers that day:

“My Uncle, Amos Day, Jr., was on the Tribal Council at the time, and I’d never seen him be emotional,” Rios recently recalled. “He’d always been so stoic, which I admired about him. He broke down, and that’s literally when it kicked in for me what it meant to become federally-recognized. The struggles that he and the rest of my family went through on The Reservation, what they did not have, what they endured to get to that point on that day – that’s when I got it – what federal recognition meant for our nation.”

“Federal recognition” means that the United States government recognizes the status of a tribe as a sovereign (a status first recognized in the treaties the United States signed with that tribe). There are several terms and concepts that must be understood to wholly appreciate the impact, importance, and meaning federal recognition, or federal reaffirmation, has had on the NHBP.

The first term is “sovereignty,” which is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any intrusion from outside sources or bodies. Non-recognized tribes can form tribal organizations but lack sovereign powers. Nations that possess absolute sovereignty are completely independent of any other political power; examples of this are the United States, Mexico, Japan, and Germany. The federal government possesses absolute sovereignty in the United States, but it shares some of this power with the states, which, consequently, share a portion of their power with counties, towns, villages, and cities. Power shared in this type of arrangement is called divided sovereignty.

When Europeans first encountered American Indian tribes, they often treated them as political entities possessing absolute sovereignty. In the United States’ early history, the federal government also recognized Indian tribes as fully independent and sovereign powers; however, as settlers pushed west, the federal government sought to limit tribes’ sovereign powers. The United States wanted to prevent tribes from making diplomatic alliances with foreign nations such as Spain, France, and Great Britain. This was especially true following the War of 1812, during which many tribes sided with Great Britain.

This practice became embedded in federal law in 1832 when United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall issued his famous decision in the case of Worcester v. Georgia. This decision defined Indian tribes as “domestic dependent nations.” In other words, they were no longer independent nations possessing absolute sovereignty.

Indian tribes today are still considered domestic dependent nations. Federally recognized tribes are those Indian groups that the United States acknowledges have a right to tribal self-government regarding their internal affairs and is like the diplomatic recognition that the United States extends to foreign nations. When a tribe is federally recognized, it has the right to establish a tribal government and enter into agreements with the federal government in much the same way that the federal government makes agreements with Canada and Mexico; however, because they are defined as domestic dependent nations, Indian tribes may not make treaties or agreements with any other country except the United States.

Federally recognized tribes can also have their reservation lands placed in trust. This means that their land is protected by the federal government from being purchased or taken by non-Indians. If a tribe is not federally recognized, it can own land as a corporate entity, but the federal government will not put these lands into trust for the tribe; therefore, federally recognized tribes also have what is a called a trust relationship with the government. This means that the federal authorities will protect their sovereign status, their lands and tribal property, and their rights as members of domestic dependent nations.

In summary, federal reaffirmation was a defining point in the NHBP history and the Pine Creek Reservation. It acknowledged a unique and interconnected group of people, allowing access to needed government programs unavailable to non-recognized tribes. This access stimulated a period of home and infrastructure construction. Today the reservation is bustling with activity and is becoming a showcase community.

References:

“20th Anniversary Federal Recognition.” Facebook, 2017, www.facebook.com/NHBPI/videos/1480919072028975/.

“Federal Acknowledgement or Federal Recognition.” Indian Country Wisconsin, Milwaukee Public Museum, http://www.mpm.edu/content/wirp/ICW-104.html.

“NHBP To Celebrate 20th Anniversary of Federal Recognition.” Press Room, FireKeepers Casino, https://firekeeperscasino.com/news/nhbp-to-celebrate-20th-anniversary-of-federal-recognition.

Rodwan, John, and Virginia Anewishki. Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, A People in Progress. Pine Creek Reservation, 2009.

United States, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs Branch of Acknowledgement and Research, et al. “Summary Under the Criteria and Evidence for Proposed Finding Huron Potawatomi, Inc.” HPI-V001-D004, https://www.bia.gov/sites/bia.gov/files/assets/as-ia/ofa/petition/009_hurpot_MI/009_pf.pdf.