GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan band of Native Americans will have to wait until next year to find out whether the federal government will recognize them as an official tribe, MiBiz reports. The decision has been hitting delays for 28 years.

The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians is recognized by the state of Michigan as an official tribe but not by the federal government. It consists of 500 members living in and around Kent, Muskegon and Oceana counties.

Federal recognition would bring the group benefits including access to federal programs and resources like the Indian Health Service, and the use of sovereign treaty rights for things like fishing.

The tribe first applied to the Interior Department’s Office of Federal Acknowledgment 28 years ago, in October 1994. OFA kept extending the deadline and then issued a suspension from 2020 to 2022 for the pandemic. Its most recent deadline was Oct. 12, but it notified the tribe of a 120-day extension because of a “proposed finding” on the petition, MiBiz reports.

The federal government’s new deadline is Feb. 9, 2023. That’s when it will rule on whether the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians should receive the benefits of a formal federal recognition.

In June, Governor Gretchen Whitmer did not greenlight plans for another group, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, to create a tribal casino near Muskegon. She blamed it on the fact that the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians were not federally recognized, saying that was “critical” to her “making an informed decision.”

The Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians praised Whitmer, thanking her for preserving their potential to develop the area if they become federally recognized.

To be recognized by the OFA, a tribe must meet certain criteria including that it has a governing document, has existed since 1900, and consists of people who descend from historical Indian tribes that are not already federally recognized, reported MiBiz.