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Published: Thursday, 4/7/2005

Native Americans claim part of North Bass Island

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

The Ottawa tribe of Oklahoma has put a claim on more than half of a Lake Erie island and says it is owed damages for the loss of the property during the early 1800s.

Richard Rogovin, a lawyer for the tribe, said the Ottawas are not planning to use the claim as leverage to win a casino deal. The Ottawas are among at least three tribes that have pursued a casino in Ohio. Historically, the tribe lived in the Great Lakes region, including northwest Ohio.

The 350 acres on North Bass Island, Ohio's northernmost island, is owned by the state, which bought most of the sparsely populated island about 20 miles offshore from Port Clinton for $17.4 million in 2003.

Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro is skeptical and will hire outside experts to study the claim, spokesman Kim Norris said. The tribe filed the claim with the state.

The Ottawas controlled a large chunk of northwest Ohio in the 1700s and used the island as an outpost for fishing, hunting, and trade.

From 1783 to 1822, the Canadian border ran through half of North Bass Island, Mr. Rogovin said. That land was not affected by treaties the Ottawas and other tribes struck as settlers moved west, Mr. Rogovin said.

The U.S.-Canadian boundary moved north of the island in 1822, but no treaty was made regarding the island, Mr. Rogovin said.

The tribe also claims it gained hunting and fishing rights to Lake Erie under an 1805 treaty with the federal government.

Joyce Mahaney, president and founder of the Toledo American Indian Inter-Tribal Council, said yesterday she hoped the government would keep any promises it made. "I'm all for honoring the treaties," she said. "So many haven't been. There are hundreds of treaties that haven't been honored by the U.S. government yet."

The claim wasn't news to Ms. Mahaney.

"I know for several years there was talk about the tribes out of Oklahoma wanting to claim the Erie Islands and it never really materialized," she said. "People have talked about it for at least 10 years, maybe 12.

"This is probably the actual claim that's being made now," she added. "They're following through with it."

The Ottawa tribe wants to set up a fishing fleet on the island, Mr. Rogovin said. Lake Erie fishing is managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

An ODNR spokesman referred questions to the attorney general's office, but added the claim won't affect its plans for the area.

"We remain on course with our plan to protect North Bass Inland as the last remaining undeveloped island on Lake Erie," spokesman Jane Beathard said. "The possibility of potential claim has no impact on our plans to turn this site into a low-impact recreational site."

The 1,000-member tribe also wants damages for being deprived of its land. That could be worth millions if the claim is legitimate, said Blake Watson, a University of Dayton law professor and an expert on American Indian law.

Mrs. Mahaney said she will be watching to see what happens.

"Historically, the story hasn't had a good ending ... but maybe they have some good attorneys," she said.



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