A Restatement of the Common Law of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians

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Since its inception, the GTB Tribal Court has promoted and propelled the perception that tribal courts are institutions of integrity, honor, and veracity. Decisions, orders, and judgments of the GTB Tribal Court have been recognized by other courts in Michigan consistent with the amendment made to the Michigan Court Rules with respect to judgments of tribal courts. Delegates from the GTB Tribal Court participated in the Indian Tribal Court/State Trial Court Forum which led to the 1996 promulgation of Michigan Court Rule 2.615, Enforcement of Tribal Judgments, requiring Michigan courts to presume as valid, “judgments, decrees, orders, warrants, subpoenas, records, and other judicial acts” of the tribal courts of Michigan’s federally recognized tribes.

The attention to detail, commitment to the GTB Constitution, and overall acuity of GTB Tribal Court judges is precisely why the growth of GTB common law has been developing over the past nineteen years. This extended period has permitted a number of GTB Trial Court judges and Appellate Court justices to pursue their Constitutional mandate to exercise judicial power over “all cases arising under this Constitution, ordinances, regulations, and/or judicial decisions of the Grand Traverse Band . . . to the fullest extent consistent with self-determination and the sovereign powers of the Tribe.”

The success of the Court cannot simply be attributed to the members of the Court, but also to the GTB citizens and past elected members of the GTB Tribal Council. At certain times growing pains have existed as exemplified by various struggles with the doctrine of separation of powers. These growing pains exist within the GTB in the same manner that they have, and do, within any government struggling with the separation of it’s branches. Despite some common inter-governmental and intragovernmental disputes, controversial decisions and opinions issued by the GTB Tribal Court have been widely respected by the Tribal Council, GTB citizens, and noncitizens.

The GTB Tribal Judiciary has come a long way from the days of a part-time judge and three appellate justices who were not called upon to hear cases with any regularity. With a hefty budget, the Court now has a total of five appointed judicial officers: a Chief Judge, an Associate Judge, and three appellate justices. Moreover, there are three full-time Court Clerks, a Court Administrator, and a Peacemaker. The GTB Restatement is a testament to the GTB Tribal Judiciary abiding by, pursuing, and exercising its Constitutional judicial power.

The GTB’s first two chief judges, Michael D. Petoskey and JoAnne Cook, are both members of the Band. This Restatement of the Common Law of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians is dedicated to them.


Work published when author not on Michigan Law faculty.