Cooperation of Supreme Court, tribal leaders results in Learning Center 3 Fires exhibit


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Many people are unaware that Michigan’s Anishnaabeg, or People of the Three Fires, run separate tribal courts that may be similar to federal and state courts, or may incorporate different approaches such as peacemaking and elder’s councils.

A new exhibit at the Michigan Supreme Court (MSC) Learning Center in Lansing will address that lack of awareness, at least among the more than 10,000 visitors who tour the center each year.

Tribal leaders, MSC?justices, and others from the Michigan Tribal State Federal Judicial Forum launched the new section of the Learning Center last Wednesday.

Five of seven MSC Justices were present: Chief Justice Stephen Markman, Justice Bridget McCormack – who as the MSC liaison on tribal issues took a leading role in the opening – Justice Beth Clement,  Justice Brian Zahra, and Justice Richard Bernstein, the MSC?Learning Center liaison.

But a former justice, the Hon. Michael Cavanagh, took center stage even though he did not speak. Cavanagh was instrumental in convening the first Tribal State Court Forum in 1992, a precursor to the creation of the Michigan Tribal State Federal Judicial Forum by the MSC in 2014. The forum’s collaborative efforts have resulted not only in this informative exhibit, but also in helping to assure that judicial processes involving federal, state and tribal courts  go well for the general public and especially the children of the state.

In addition to Chief Justice Markman, Chief Judge Michael Petoskey of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and Frank Ettawageshik, the Executive Director of the United Tribes of Michigan, spoke. Chief Judge Petoskey said that one of the first projects undertaken by the tribal state forum was to add tribal courts and leaders to the State Bar directory.   “Do you know what that did in terms of giving visibility to our courts?” he asked.  “And now, we have this,” he added, gesturing to the easy-to-grasp interactive touch-screen exhibit. “This also adds to our legitimacy.”

Chief Judge Allie Greenleaf Maldonado of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa was also at the opening; Justice McCormack noted that Maldonado was a former student of hers at the University of Michigan.

Potawatomi and Odawa (Ottawa)  are two of the three Anishnaabeg traditional tribal groups; Ojibway (Chippewa) is the third. There are 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan.

MSC Learning Center Coordinator Rachael Drenovsky ended the event by acknowledging everyone’s hard work.