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Tribal governments to weigh in on Camp Grayling expansion proposal

An aerial photo of the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center.
Camp Grayling
An aerial photo of the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center.

Leaders from Michigan’s 12 federally-recognized tribal communities plan to discuss the proposed expansion of Camp Grayling with the Department of Natural Resources.

Those closed-door discussions will take place tomorrow, DNR spokesperson Ed Golder told the IPR News.

No tribal governing bodies have taken an official stance on the expansion yet, but some officials have already expressed concern.

David Arroyo, chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians says he’s heard from residents worried how military training exercises could impact the health of surrounding ecosystems and access to outdoor recreation.

“I join in opposition to the proposed expansion of Camp Grayling’s facility, however the (GTB Tribal) Council hasn’t made an official stance at this point,” Arroyo said in a statement. “Nevertheless, overwhelming opposition to the expansion includes the United Tribes of Michigan, Congressman Jack Bergman, state representatives, local governments and concerned citizens of Michigan.”

The Michigan National Guard announced its proposal to lease 162,000 acres of state land in north-central Michigan last year — saying the land would be used for low-impact cyber and electromagnetic warfare training that require long distances.

However, Acting DNR Director Shannon Lott said the acreage is likely to scale down when she testified before a state House subcommittee on agriculture and natural resources in February.

Over the past 10 months, the proposal was met with skepticism and backlash throughout Northern Michigan from lawmakers, conservation groups and local governments.

As of April 5, over three dozen county and township boards, inside and outside the expansion area, have passed resolutions or written letters opposing the expansion effort.

According to Frank Ettawageshik, president of Michigan United Tribes, tribal entities were not consulted on the proposal last year.

“There's language in the Tribal State Accord that indicates when the state takes actions that would affect us, they are to consult with us,” Ettawageshik said. “We think that in this case, the Natural Resource Department, the (Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy) and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs all have a hand in this … and that they should be consulting with the tribes.”

Ettawageshik said he’s heard a number of concerns from tribal residents in the proposed expansion area — which includes sections of Kalkaska, Otsego and Missaukee counties.

He said many revolve around the history of contamination from toxic chemicals known as PFAS, traced back to the training facility in 2016.

“We're concerned that the manner in which the PFAS situation has been dealt with has not been satisfactory to the citizens of the area, tribal and non tribal,” Ettawageshik said. “And that this demonstrates how we might expect to have any future issues be dealt with.”

Arroyo said he’s looking to voice the Grand Traverse Band’s stance at the meeting with DNR officials.

“Despite the governor’s order requiring tribal consultation, no formal tribal consultation with either the state of Michigan, DNR or U.S. government has been held and there are many concerns regarding the proposed expansion, including negative impacts on the environment such as air, water, wildlife and other natural resources,” Arroyo said in his statement.

DNR officials previously told the IPR News that there's no set timeline for a decision on the proposal.

IPR News reached out to the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

To learn more, listen to an in-depth episode of the Points North podcast about the proposed expansion to Camp Grayling.

Michael Livingston is a senior at Central Michigan University majoring in Journalism and International Relations. He grew up in Hartland, a small town in Livingston County. After graduation in 2022, he aspires to take his reporting abroad as a correspondent.