Tribal casinos may be headed for clash with Whitmer, Nessel over reopening


The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians’ Kewadin Casinos announced an open date of May 16 for its five Upper Peninsula casinos, 12 days before the end of Michigan’s executive order shuttering casinos, bars and dine-in restaurants. (Shutterstock photo)

Some Michigan tribal casinos are making plans to open as early as May 16, setting up a possible showdown with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, who fear crowds at slot machines could spread the coronavirus.

How the state will respond to the planned openings isn’t known yet; on Tuesday, Nessel's office warned one tribal casino that had planned to open this week that patrons would be “subject to civil and criminal penalties” if they visited the casino.

The Island Resort & Casinos, in Harris in the western Upper Peninsula and operated by the Hannahville Indian Community, backed down and didn’t reopen this week, though that casino is one of at least six that now plan to open May 16, according to tribal leaders.

Last week, Whitmer issued an executive order closing bars, dine-in restaurants and casinos until May 28. But that order doesn’t apply to Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Native American tribes, which by law are  sovereign nations. That means they have the sole authority over managing their own communities and resources.

The tribes have been following state and federal government guidelines for the coronavirus so far, but they ultimately have the final say in when their businesses, namely casinos, reopen.

Michigan tribes are planning a conference call with Whitmer and Nessel early next week to discuss a timeline for casino reopening, according to Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe spokesperson Frank Cloutier. 

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown, said “tribal leaders and administration officials plan to discuss a strategy for safely re-engaging.”

Ryan Jarvi, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said in an emailed response, “representatives from state offices have been in ongoing discussions with tribal leaders, and a conference call between those leaders and Gov. Whitmer, MDHHS Chief Medical Executive Khaldun and other representatives from state offices is scheduled for early next week to continue that conversation. 

“The Attorney General’s office will also participate in the call,” Jarvi continued. “We respect the tribes’ sovereignty and seek to continue to work with them as partners in a concerted effort to protect human life from the threat posed by COVID-19.”

In extending the closure of bars, dine-in restaurants, theaters and casinos until May 28, Whitmer said that while the closures were uncomfortable, they are necessary to suppress the potentially deadly pandemic.

“Although we are beginning to see the curve flatten, we are not out of the woods yet,” Whitmer said April 30. “Extending this order is vital to the health and safety of every Michigander. If we work together and do our part, we can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.” 

As of Thursday, there were more than 45,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan, and more than 4,300 deaths caused by the virus.

Most of those cases and deaths, however, are in the southern half of the state, far from the majority of Michigan tribes and casinos.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians’ Kewadin Casinos announced an open date of May 16 for its five Upper Peninsula casinos, 12 days before the end of Michigan’s executive order shuttering casinos, bars and dine-in restaurants.

Kewadin casinos are in Sault Ste. Marie, St. Ignace, Manistique, Christmas and Hessel.

Michigan’s stay-at-home order was set to expire May 15, the day before the Kewadin reopenings. The order was extended on Thursday until May 28.

Sault Tribe leaders could not be reached for comment. But a security guard who answered the phone at Kewadin’s St. Ignace casino confirmed the May 16 opening to Bridge. Some casino employees told Bridge they have been asked to come to the casino this Saturday for a meeting and deep-clean before the scheduled reopening.

For many tribes in Michigan, casino revenue is the main source of income for tribal economies. Casinos are often some of the biggest employers in the area, supporting both tribal and surrounding local communities. With casinos closed across the state, Michigan’s tribal leaders are struggling to support their governments and community members. 

The $8 billion in federal relief aid promised to tribes by the federal government in March is being dispersed this week after a lengthy court battle, but some tribal leaders say the federal funds aren’t enough by itself. 

Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians has not officially declared a reopening date for Northern Waters Casino & Resort, but they are likely to follow in the footsteps of other Michigan tribes. 

“I believe we will be open before the 28th,” Lac Vieux spokeswoman Alice Brunk told Bridge. “Especially if other casinos are opening, I don’t see why we wouldn’t open on the 16th too.” 

Brunk stressed the tribe is taking precautions to keep employees and patrons safe. 

“Our casino is going to open in phases, we’re providing masks,” Brunk said. “We are only allowing 150 people in at a time. We are not opening up our bar, snack shop, restaurant, and hotel at this time. We are going to see how things go, but we need funds coming into our community so that we can continue taking care of everyone,” she said.

Whether that is enough to avoid a tribal-state conflict isn’t clear. Just ask the Hannahville Indian Community. The tribe had planned to reopen its Island Resort & Casinos in Harris Tuesday, but received a letter Monday from Nessel’s office that, while recognizing the tribe’s sovereign right to open the casino, warned that non-tribal customers visiting the casino would be violating Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.

“As is true in other parts of the state, the failure to comply with the executive orders exposes individuals to potential civil and criminal penalties,” states the letter, which was shared with Bridge. “With that in mind, we ask that you limit your operations to assist your citizens, employees, patrons and the public in complying with the executive orders by staying home and not exposing themselves and others to the novel coronavirus.”

In a blog post, tribal member Leroy Wandahsega wrote: “The Hannahville Indian Community Tribal Government succumbed to the will of the state of Michigan and decided to reopen the tribal economy” later than May 6.

Other tribes in Michigan said they plan to adhere to state guidelines and keep casinos closed. 

Cloutier, the Saginaw Chippewa spokesperson, told Bridge an early reopening of the Soaring Eagle Casinos is "not likely at all.”

Above all, tribal leaders emphasize the role that tribal sovereignty plays in making these decisions. 

“The state of Michigan guidelines have no force or effect on our reservation,” Bay Mills Indian Community Chairman Bryan Newland said. “We have the right to govern ourselves.”


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Valarie Tell
Thu, 05/07/2020 - 10:33pm

You know what I love about Whitmer? No matter what the date, no matter what the question, no matter what the data, no matter what the argument, she always has the same response. It's such a good response to- it says nothing, it does nothing, it is gently soothing, and it provides no real direction.

“Although we are beginning to see the curve flatten, we are not out of the woods yet,” Whitmer said April 30. “Extending this order is vital to the health and safety of every Michigander. If we work together and do our part, we can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”

One wonders if the goal is to 'flatten the curve', and once the curve has been flattened if that means the forced closures are over. Or perhaps it isn't until we are "out of the woods", whatever woods that might be. If there is a curve that is flattened, that means that the number of people die, so extending the order doesn't actually provide any long-term safety to anyone. But maybe staying in the woods longer is the secret to saving lives, whatever those woods are. And of course, let's all work together is great during a time of house arrest, work closures, and social distancing- all things which prevent working and togetherness- but darn it sounds nice, doesn't it?

As long as she just keeps repeating this nonsense in a pleasing voice, acting like a victim 100% of the time and blaming others for everything that goes wrong in a state that she is running like a dictator, people like her. And isn't that what is important at the end of the day?

Action v Whining
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:14am

To most of us, Governor Whitmer is doing a great job, a true leader, but you are entitled to your opinion.

Suzi Howe
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:29am

Love your observations! You are so right. We have been racing for the remote to switch the channel when we see it is her...this is mostly to appease my he can no longer tolerate my yelling at the TV whenever Witchmer appears...LOL

Lee Chapstick
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:31pm

As a man, I can assure you he's thinking about her when you're thinking he's thinking of you. No guy wants a jealous insecure woman-girl like you who yells at the TV. It's a kind of a turnoff.

Sun, 05/10/2020 - 12:10am

Seriously doubt she's jealous of the women, but your response is typical of someone who can't handle someone thinking for themselves or having a differing opinion.

Kathi Geukes
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:57am

So you would take the risk of being contaminated and getting sick just because you don't like Gretchen Whitmer?? I hope you don't have any kids. Mummy would take them out and get them sick just because she doesn't like the governor!!! What an idiot you are!!

Fri, 05/15/2020 - 2:39pm

I have kids. This is why I do not want to strap them with the debt and economic despair that will impact our state for the next 10 years or more. The curve IS flattened, and the virus IS here to stay. Waiting it out will ruin our economy. Lets take away that $600 per week and see how many people still feel the same way, I bet they will be begging to go back to work.

A Yooper
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 1:31pm

Horse shit!

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 5:34pm

I'm so sick of hearing how we have no rights. Americans (especially white males) don't even know what it's like to not have freedom. You don't see us being barricaded in our homes like China did. Talk about not having rights. We can still go outside and get exercise or get essential needs. Plus no is truly regulating you. I would really like to know how these cry babies would handle this situation. We would probably be all sick with the virus. We went from the third state with high cases to dropping the seventh. So something is clearly working here.

Amash 2020
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 3:39am

You can go to casino nations, but not Canada. Right, Mr. President? Makes you wonder if he's still in the casino business. It is certainly easier to profit when you are in charge of the US government and you subsidize them with tax payer money.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 8:02pm

I agree.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 6:33am

Wait, we give tax bailouts to casinos of sovereign nations? Revere, are we good with that?

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:32pm

Revere, where did you go? Need some time to think about the absurdity?

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 9:02am

So, the patrons will be subject to civil and possibly criminal prosecution." Pursuant to what? The legislature has not given approval for this extension. She's trying to intimidate people, like any good nazi would. Maybe she could have her goons staged in the parking lot taking licenses plate numbers, like they did during the first protest and then threaten the businesses whose vehicles were there.

Emily Diebold
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:16am

Wishful thinking?

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 9:16am

Lol. Better come up with something that will past muster with the MI Supreme Ct.
Put your cap guns away Dana, your facing a bazooka. Omg, Liberal logic.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 8:04pm

People would rather deepen their divides than stand on principles. What happened to the GOP?

anne nemes
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 9:19am

So if I go to another bordering state that has opened their restaurants before Michigan, Michigan can arrest/fine me when I return? This seems like the same thing since these tribes have their own sovereign nations which the casinos are part of.

Olivia Posner
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:22am

No, Anne, you just have to live with the guilt of killing your grandmother if you infect her.

Tom Madden
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 3:25pm

What a nasty remark Olivia! Anne asked a legitimate question and you give her one of those liberal shotgun attacks. You should be ashamed of yourself. Anne, what Olivia failed to ask is if you are an undocumented person (Someone in this country illegally) because then you could do anything you wanted and you wouldn't be attacked.

Let die
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:35pm

Tom, why do you hate your grandma? You must be like Trump. At his latest rally, I mean plant tour, his playlist included blaring the song "LIVE OR LET DIE". How tone deaf orange is!

Sun, 05/10/2020 - 6:59pm

you must be a special kind of stupid . Most people would rather die free than live under a communist regime like whitmers . I joined the Marines during Desert storm not because I loved the desert but because I will not let our rights be trampled on and defiled by a bunch of foreigners . If this hag wants to keep going against our constitution she may find herself in the middle of a war she cant win. The people will only stand for so much before we revolt.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 4:31pm

This is such a stupid line of thought, and makes a serious discussion childish. So with your logic, until there is (potentially) a vaccine, I could be responsible for killing my grandma? When does my responsibility for her life begin and end? If I go to the casino, then keep away from grandma for a couple weeks to watch for symptoms, making sure to wash my hands and wear a mask around her when I finally visit, I AM being responsible- believe it or not. There is a balance to be found. I mean come on, grow up, no one wants to kill grandma. We are all trying to navigate through this, some are just more frustrated than others. I would hardly equate it with manslaughter.

Common sense
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 8:19pm

Anonymous, you seem reasonable. We need balance, but that is not what I am seeing at stores, in the news, or reading in the comments here. To prove my point, the number of new cases is rising in our country, not falling, especially in the states that are opening more quickly. People are not using common sense and have a false sense of security because the weather is warming. Somehow people seem to think the virus just disappeared, not sure if it's because the president was taking about light or the season killing it. The CDC recommended guidelines are being delayed for what appear to be political reasons. We have people fighting on principle not to wear masks when indoors. Why is wearing a mask when doing business such a problem and flashpoint for controversy, if we all want to reopen our economy as fast as prudent, with care for grandma? It's so sad and irresponsible. Trust me I want our economy to ramp up, but it seems too many people are already acting recklessly. However, we shall see. I expect the death rates to spike again because, well, the human race, on average, is evidently quite stupid. I'm not saying that because I am so elite. I'm not. I'm basing it on what I see. Peace to you and your family, grandma included, all our loved ones. We are not enemies, the virus is.

Sun, 05/10/2020 - 9:00am

I agree with you, that was a terrible line of thought !! Thanks for a sane and responsible reply.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 8:27pm

Stop with the guilt trip of killing grandma, when people want to get back to work. Gretchen is killing people by not letting them go to the dr or let them get procedures and biopsies done. Gretchen wants to be VP so she is playing politics with peoples lives. There is know science behind going to Walmart or going to a smaller store. She has no plan, doesnt want to hear the small businesses are losing everything. But she is getting paid by the payers.

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:37pm

Meanwhile Trump's latest theme song is "Live or Let Die". Bye, grandma.

Mike Hallada
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 9:27am

Tribal sovereignty must be upheld by tribal leaders. Demand the federal government release the billions in funds allocated to them.Threatening the patrons of the casinos is a pure power play. I would urge the Indian nations to act in their own best interests.

Trump 2020
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 4:10pm

I agree and we should build a wall around them and make them pay for it.

Sun, 05/10/2020 - 12:40am

I agree, Mike Hallada. The tribal leaders need to run their nations as theyve been elected to. The United States government needs to honor their treaties. What a lot of people never learned in school is how the treaties work. And Whitmer...good luck fighting against the Supreme Court. Just a couple cases that restate the Tribes sovereignty...Montana v United States, United States v Mazurie, and Washington v Confederated Tribes of Colville Indian Reservation. People need to keep their heads during this time. If your afraid of the risk, stay home. But some people are poor, especially in Michigan, and they need to eat, feed children, buy necessary meds. Not everyone is approved for unemployment or can collect welfare benefits. We can all do with a bit of compassion.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:46am

Sounds like money means more than safety and protecting the health and well being of the communities yours and surrounding areas. Carriers will unknowingly travel to your communities. Then you made a few bucks and took ten steps backwards make a good decision.

Let them die
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:38pm

Death panels, courtesy of GOP and the campaign to reelect tRump.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:51am

Then the Tribe's that do not adhere to the State's laws, should not be receiving any help with finance's from The State of Michigan or The United States Federal Government. This BS of what was done to them hundreds of years ago, is long past. No should be able to have it both ways!!!!

Kathi Geukes
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 11:04am

All you people who have a problem with the stay at home mandate surprise me. I can't figure out why you are willing to risk your health and that of your family because you don't like the Governor or Attorney General.....sounds like a political difference to me. Which means you really don't care about yourselves or your families...which is really sad and then I say go ahead.....the sooner you're on the sidelines the better for us people you could infect!!!! By all means....go out....get real close to each other...shake hands and kiss each other on the cheek....just make sure when you get were warned!!!!!

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:45pm

Those people have a false sense of security. They haven't seen the consequences yet. They think they are invincible. They hope they get it and develop some kind of immunity, even though that has not been proven. They don't really care about others. They think survival of the fittest. They think all those things, until they don't, until they learn their lesson. They operate on anger and emotion, not reason. I pray for them and all of us because their behavior affects all of us. It's not live and let live. It's just like the new theme song of the president, live and let die, no regrets, no scruples.

Fri, 05/15/2020 - 2:48pm

So, you can't have medical procedures, vet appointments, dental visits, etc. People are living with real physical pain and can't get help. Then, you see some of us got our cobra paperwork in the mail because we lost our insurance until we go back. Some of us have had no luck getting through to the unemployment office for 8 weeks or more trying 8 hours a day. YOu just like your government check and siting back with your kids. Other people are truly hurting and you do not care.

Truly screw you

Sat, 05/16/2020 - 2:31pm

As an MIT grad I can see that there is NO logical science behind most of these shutdowns and pronouncements. Much of this is a hysterical reaction driven by politics,ignorance, and stupidity.
All of these comments about a second wave are only a GUESS. They are based on experiences from a different virus over 100 years ago.
The odds of someone under 65 dying from corono is very, very small.
Previous flu epidemics in the US have killed about the same number. Why no panic then?
Many vaccines are only around 50% effective.
Solution, open up and stay away from old people while the virus dies down .
People with symptoms should get tested.
Restaurants can check temperatures at the door.
Problem solved.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 12:02pm

I think the tribes should demand shut down of line 5 for real as a prerequisite to any conversation with the state. Complain all you want about Whitmer’s shut down orders, but I know my Mom would be either dead or damaged if she hadn’t. Her church groups had cases. All you team COVID folks complaining about governor over reach, what about the stupid emergency manager law Snyder did when he poisoned Flint?

No kidding
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 4:13pm

"Team COVID"≠Patriotic

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 7:32am

Governor Snyder didn't poison Flint. The city of Flint made the change that led to using a different water source. One of the governor's roles isn't to make decisions regarding water sources. I wish he were in charge now. We would be in a better place. He wouldn't be on all the liberal national networks tooting his horn.

Read your history
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:48pm

Snyder appointed the unelected emergency manager who made the decision without regard to the will of the citizens of Flint. Snyder is the tyrant. You are showing your immense ignorance by your post.

Common sense
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 12:23pm

Your wanting line 5 shut down obviously means you or none of your family rely on propane for anything. Or when price raises by 400% you'll be first one on here bitching that Trump raised propane prices. More I think about it your probably one of those Obama ph users who get all this "free" liberal money an us taxpayers are paying for your ph your using right now.

Just sayin
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:57pm

You may not have noticed but there is an oil glut caused by covid19, negative numbers. People kind of want to live right now and it looks like the one thing we absolutely do not have to worry about is oil. Thank God.

A Yooper
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 1:35pm

All you Nay Sayers keep ignoring the warnings.
Go on using your Ouija boards, stick your fingers to your mouths as you smoke next to your cronies, laugh in each others faces, high five, spread the virus, while the Native Americans cull your herd.
They don't need to do a war dance as they laugh all the way to the bank.
Good luck palefaces!

Monkeys Do
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:01pm

Don't be so harsh, they're just weak-minded and taking their marching orders from tRump and his racist speech writer whose wife just tested positive. Many dolts in tRump's inner-circle have tested positive and refuse to wear masks, like tRump.

middle of the mit
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 5:27pm

Reading some of the comments, I am unsure why these people who hate Governor Gretchen so much and were complaining about her still allowing lottery ticket and liquor sales would have done had she not allowed the sale of those things they deemed less important than riding on their boat when it it is.........40 degrees today.....with an NNW wind at about 15-20 mph.

The last hour or two, and it is5 pm, I have seen snowflakes. But none on the lake.

Common Sense
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 3:51pm

It's not so difficult to understand. They are GOP hypocrites.

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 7:41pm

This Sault Tribe date was set prior to her extending it yesterday. It was set at the end of April after her last extension. The tribe usually takes a day or two after she extends, then extends it right along with the governor, that is when the employees find out. For example, she extended to June 1 yesterday and tribal employees found out today that we won’t be opening until June 1. My point is this article shouldn’t be making their point of “tribal casinos may be headed for clash with Whitmer” on the old date set after her last extension and their source being a security guard who answered the phone. Talk to the proper authorities then write your article instead of pot stirring.

Diana Brown
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 10:29pm

If done correctly it should be no more dangerous than the average citizens trips to Walmart. No one is practicing social distancing properly in grocery stores or inside pizza places. So what's the difference?

June Whittaker
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:04pm

Diana, by "no one" I think you mean Trump supporters and protesters. The rest of us are wearing masks.

Mon, 05/11/2020 - 2:36am

Have to disagree with you June. I'm a President Trump supporter and I wore a mask and gloves while shopping today. I saw many people with masks and many young people not wearing them. Trumps base isn't the 18 to 25 year olds.

Vickie Radaker
Fri, 05/08/2020 - 11:26pm

The medical supplies need to start being delivered, such as in Medical equipment

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 1:58pm

Gov. Whitmer cares so much for lives that she allows the Killing of the Unborn Babies during this Covid pandemic. Rather than ask the people of Michigan to follow the the guidelines she resorts to threaten us with JAIL and $1000 fines. She is also clearly playing politics with our lives and ability to work, make a living and keep the Michigan and national economy going,,she so much wants to be Biden's VP pick, and cares not nor does she respect Michigan citizens. I believe Whitmer is a Marxist and as a free people it is time to chart our own course and not to give into Whitmer threats and destruction. In reality she cares nothing about life, just her own power. The Native Michigan casinos must set a date for opening, say Memorial Day weekend, follow all the safety procedures as laid out by the Nevada casinos and suspend smoking within the general area of the casino and hotels. Now if Whitmer threatens the casino's with losing their liquor license, so be it, and take all your sovereign status back and stop reporting all taxable wins at their casinos to the State and cut in half all money given to local gov. entities. Time for the Tribes of Michigan to take back their warrior status, and us White patriots will have your back! :)

Live or LET DIE
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:10pm

Babies born to parents and grandparents on ventilators. Why do we have to bailout casinos with our tax dollars?

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:08pm

Apparently the Michigan AG does not understand that she can't issue citations on tribal land. Surprised she doesn't know the law...

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:20pm

Apparently the Michigan AG does not understand that she can't issue citations on tribal land. Surprised she doesn't know the law...

Master 6th
Thu, 05/14/2020 - 11:05am

We as a republic, not a democracy, have rights and We should be able to have the Freedom to use them as we see fit.

Comparing us to China is not correct. We had people who fought for Freedom and won it. Chinese are lazy and listen to their masters. We did not and We should not be pushed down as a Republic to think that government is our master.

They are to listen to Us the Republic as they represent Us. Whitmer has invoked threats upon our Freedoms and We laid down at the beginning because We thought We were doing right by our Republic.

Now she has decided that she is above Us the Republic and she is smarter than Us.

She is not she is our employee. We should be able to fire her for doing a poor job.

If anyone would like to a good read take up the Federalist Papers. It reviews how the new constitution was written and reviews how a large commercial Republic should operate. It was written by Hamilton, Madison, Jay.

Specially read article 10.

Once again she is not our Master she is our Employee and should be fired.

This has nothing to do with Trump.

I am a life long Democrat but also believe in the constitution and freedom of choice. When they are taken away like she had done she does not represent the Democratic Party, only herself and herself interests