GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians still has work to do.

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs notified tribal leaders Thursday that the office will not recognize the Grand River Bands as an Indian tribe because they failed “to satisfy one of the seven mandatory criteria for acknowledgement.”

“While the Petitioner’s members appear to descend from these historic Grand River-area bands, the Petitioner has not demonstrated that its members comprise a distinct community that has existed as a community through time,” the bureau’s ruling stated.

It continued: “Instead of showing that (the Grand River Bands) represents a continuously existing
community, the evidence shows that (the Grand River Bands) was formed recently by the merging of several different groups of descendants of the historic Grand River-area bands. These
different groups were based in different parts of Michigan and appear to have acted
independently, each with its own separate leadership, membership, and activities.”

Tribal chairman Ron Yob issued a statement in the wake of the ruling, saying the Grand River bands will continue to fight for representation.

“While we disagree with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s initial findings on our petition, we are confident we can provide the additional information requested and ultimately achieve the long overdue federal recognition for our tribal members,” Yob said in a statement.

The tribe has 180 days to submit new evidence to challenge the BIA’s proposed findings.

The Grand River Bands is recognized as a tribe by the state of Michigan but not by the DOI. Federal recognition comes with wide-ranging benefits, including access to federal programs and declarations for sovereign treaty rights.

The tribe first applied for federal recognition in October 1994. After 11 years of review, the OFA notified the tribe of issues with several parts of the petition. Yob said those problems were corrected, but the tribe’s petition has been stuck in limbo ever since.

A long-awaited decision was expected soon after the BIA announced a two-week extension earlier this month, a noted change from the typical 120-day extensions that the BIA has used for the last several years.

“The Grand River Bands has a long history in Michigan, with agreements with the federal government dating back to 1795, and we are a state-recognized tribe,” Yob said. “We have support from numerous lawmakers, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, other tribes, business groups, community organizations and West Michigan residents who have and continue to advocate alongside us. We remain confident we will be granted federal recognition and be able to provide justice and critical resources for our members.”

The tribe itself is a group of 19 different bands from across West Michigan.

“The 19 different bands existed along the (Grand River), somewhere between here and almost to Jackson. Basically, wherever there was a river mouth, like the Platte or the Thornapple or the Maple, Red Cedar, there would be a village. And when we were treatied, we were treatied together as the Grand River Bands,” Yob told News 8 in 2022.

According to Yob, the Grand River Band has about 500 members, although the BIA challenged those claims in its report. Yob says numbers have slowly dropped off as some members have left for different tribes — ones that are federally recognized and therefore receive federal benefits. Regardless, they aren’t giving up the fight.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Yob said. “We have been here thousands of years. We are the tribe of record. We are treatied here. Our documentation shows us to be from this Grand River valley. We’re the only tribe here. And for the sake of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and future descendants, we have to push this through for them.”