Casino dispute leads to recall effort against tribal chairman

Mar 27, 2018

Thurlow "Sam" McClellan
Credit Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians

Members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians will vote in a tribal election next week.

They will be choosing candidates for the tribal council, and they will also be asked whether or not to recall Tribal Chairman Thurlow “Sam” McClellan.

McClellan has been accused of misusing tribal credit cards during a trip to Washington, D.C. last year. But he’s also been an outspoken critic of the Tribal Council’s plan to build a new casino.

Eric Carlson, who has been covering this story for the Leelanau Enterprise, says tribal elders are behind the recall election. He says the accusation that McClellan misused credit cards is really “an internal procedure issue.”

“Sam might have violated tribal regulations but even the people submitting the recall petition have admitted it’s really just a reason to get his name on a recall ballot,” says Carlson.

McClellan has criticized the Leelanau Sands Casino in his column in the GTB News, a newsletter published by the tribe.

He says the Peshawbestown casino has lost $1.8 million over the last year, and has been losing money for the last several years. He has published documents backing up his assertions in the GTB News.

McClellan says many tribal business endeavors have failed, and opening a new casino is a bad idea.

Carlson says the seven-member council is often split, with four votes going one way and three going the other.

“In essence, the recall and the upcoming election of Tribal Council members is going to be a referendum on whether the tribe should move forward on this [casino] project,” says Carlson.

The election is Tuesday, April 3.