Tribe Sues over Piece of Campus

Author: Tom Tiberio '04

A Native American tribe in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula says it was cheated out of a piece of land on which a part of the Notre Dame campus now rests, but the University says it acquired the land legally.

In a lawsuit filed last December, the Hannahville Indian Community, a successor to the Potawatomi tribe, alleges that the state of Indiana illegally transferred Potawatomi-owned land to Notre Dame in violation of treaties dating to the 1820s.

The Potawatomi were living in northern Indiana when frontier missionary Father Stephen T. Badin built his log chapel on the banks of Saint Mary’s Lake in 1831. Badin had purchased the future site of Notre Dame in parcels from the government. In 1835 he donated the property to the Holy Cross order’s Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana. The federal government forcibly marched the Potawatomi out of Indiana to a reservation in Kansas in 1838. The Bishop of Vincennes gave the land to Notre Dame founder Father Sorin, CSC, who arrived with a group of religious brothers in 1842.

A legal description of the tract claimed by the Hannahville Indians places it in an area near the modern-day WNDU television studios on Indiana 933.

The suit alleges “unlawful trespass” by the University in violation of the federal Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and also names the U.S. Department of Interior as a respondent. The suit asks that the tribe be declared owners of the land and that compensatory damages be rewarded. They suggest this amount be determined by assessing the fair rental value or the fair market value of the land.

University spokesman Matt Storin said Notre Dame does not expect to have to pay any back rent or surrender any land.

“We are fully confident that we have proper title to our land,” he said.A federal judge has signed an order to dismiss the lawsuit once either a settlement is reached or an executive order is placed granting extra, non-contiguous land to the tribe’s reservation in Wilson, Michigan, near the Upper Peninsula’s border with Wisconsin.

According to the tribe’s website, the Hannahville Indian Community numbers approximately 600 members who live on or near the Upper Peninsula reservation. The tribe owns and operates Chip-In’s Island Resort and Casino in Harris, Michigan, near Wilson.

Neither the lawyer in Alaska who normally represents the tribe nor the local attorney who filed the complaint in South Bend returned phone calls seeking more information.