In September, 1975, a small but visionary group of Michigan Indians and attorneys met at Ranch Rudolf, south of Traverse City, to organize Michigan Indian Legal Services. MILS was created to provide legal services to low income Indian individuals and tribes to further sustainable economic development and self-government, protection of tribal cultures and religious freedoms, overcome discrimination, and preserve Indian families. MILS offices were initially housed in a small cinder block building on Garfield Road, only a few miles south of the present location.
Over the years, MILS has helped a number of the tribes in Michigan obtain federal recognition. MILS filed the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa’s petition for federal recognition and, in 1980, they became the first tribe in the US to be recognized under the Bureau of Indian Affair’s regulations. In the 1980s, MILS worked with Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to gain separate federal recognition, which was achieved in 1988. MILS also worked with Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa, Little River Band of Ottawa and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi to gain legislative affirmation in 1994.
As the tribes in Michigan have gained federal recognition and achieved economic self-sufficiency, MILS’s focus has turn from federal recognition projects and tribal governance development to direct representation of individuals to defend the rights of native peoples and families.
MILS provides a full range of services with a focus on federal Indian and tribal law issues. The service area of MILS encompasses the entire 96,720 square miles of the state of Michigan. Because of the great distances involved - 250 miles to southeastern lower peninsula and 400 miles to the western upper peninsula - the initial client contact is often by telephone. MILS provides a toll free telephone number (800-968-6877) for client use.
There are approximately 60,000 Native Americans in Michigan, the tenth largest population of Native Americans in the United States. The tribes of Michigan constitute three major ethnologically distinct groups: the Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi. Currently, there are twelve Indian tribes in Michigan with whom the federal government acknowledges a political relationship. In addition, there are several tribes in Michigan whose political status has been ignored by the federal government. Michigan’s Indian population also includes members of nearly every tribe in the Nation, as well as many Canadian-born Native Americans.
MILS attorneys represent parents at all levels of the Michigan court system in Indian Child Welfare Act and Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act cases. See, e.g., In re Detmer/Beaudry, (Mich. Ct. App. 2017); In re Williams, (Mich. Ct. App. 2017); In re McCarrick/Lamoreaux, 2014 Mich. App. LEXIS 2039 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 23, 2014); In re Roe, 764 N.W.2d 789 (Mich. Ct. App. 2008); Empson-Laviolette v. Crago, 760 N.W.2d 793 (Mich. Ct. App 2008); In re Elliott, 554 N.W.2d 32 (Mich. Ct. App. 1996); In re Kiogima, 472 N.W.2d 13 (Mich. Ct. App. 1991); In re Hanson, 470 N.W.2d 669 (Mich. Ct. App. 1991).
MILS attorneys have appeared in state courts located throughout Michigan and has provided representation for individuals in 11 of the 12 tribal courts in Michigan. MILS handles a variety of tribal court cases, such as child welfare, juvenile delinquency, garnishment, eviction, and criminal defense. The MILS Board of Trustees set the priorities for the cases and matters handles by MILS attorneys and it can be found here. MILS also has contracts with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi to provide additional services for members and the spouses of members.