By Rick Coates
It was just seven years ago that Derek Bailey started work on a Ph.D
program at Central Michigan University when he felt that he could best
serve the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians by serving on
the Tribal Council.
Bailey left school and successfully won a seat on the board. It wasnt
long before he was elected the youngest tribal chairman of the Grand
Traverse Band (GTB) since its reorganization in 1980.
Today, Bailey and his wife Tonia reside in Leelanau County with their
five children, Panika, Nimkees, Daanis, Ohsaw Kihew and Maengun.
In addition to his work with the tribe, he also holds a Masters degree in
social work, graduating from Grand Valley State University in 1998. He has
extensive work experience in the areas of behavioral health. He has also
served as an adjunct professor in Grand Valleys MSW program.
At the age of 38, Bailey is contemplating a possible run for office in
Lansing or Washington D.C. when his tribal chairman term expires next May.
He took some time to reflect on his role as chairman and his vision for
the Grand Traverse Band.
Northern Express: Lets start with the economy. How has it impacted the
GTB economic operations?
Derek Bailey: Since I arrived in office there has been economic downturn,
fluctuations in the markets. In fact in the history of Indian gaming,
never has there been an economic recession like this one and it has
rippled through Indian country.
Having to lead through these harder economic times has been a good
experience for me. I am very proud that I was able to work with other
tribal leaders to reduce our annual governmental budget by $5 million. We
didnt cut back the quality of services we offer our membership; we just
eliminated the excess.
NE: Talk a bit about the economic impact the Grand Traverse Band has on
Bailey: I think sometimes there is so much emphasis just put on the gaming
aspect, but we are either the second or third largest employer in the
Since purchasing the Grand Traverse Resort nine years ago we have made $17
million in improvements there and that 1,000 acres is an important
contributor to the Acme Township tax roles. Since 1994 we have made over
$26 million in contributions to area organizations.
I met with Governor Snyder earlier this summer and mentioned to him that I
hope he becomes the first governor to mention in the State of the State
Address the financial impact tribal nations of this state have on the
NE: You set out several objectives when you were elected tribal chairman.
Education was one of those and you were invited to attend a conference on
early education with world leaders earlier this year. Do you feel you are
on track in improving education for GTB members?
Bailey: Yes. and I will start with myself. I attended school in Suttons
Bay, Traverse City, and eventually graduated 20 years ago from Traverse
City St. Francis. Furthering my education was not on my radar and had I
not received a college basketball scholarship I might not have pursued
But once I got to college and things started to click and I saw what
education could do for me, I knew this was an important objective for us
within the GTB. This process started before I came in and I am happy that
we have several members who have graduated from college and many have
masters degrees, we even have doctorate degrees within our community. We
now have a number of tribal citizens with law degrees.
NE:: Health care is another focus; speak to this issue.
Bailey: There are so many issues in the area of health. Indians of the
Great Lakes tribes have life expectancy of 10 years less than the rest of
the population of the region. We have issues of alcoholism, diabetes and
obesity. While obesity is a national problem, our tribal members in this
Great Lakes region have a higher obesity rate than the country as whole.
Other tribal regions have created health boards and that is one of my
objectives. That is currently being worked on in the Great Lakes region.
NE: Community outreach was another important objective.
Bailey: I really felt there were so many opportunities to collaborate not
only for the benefit of the GTB but for the benefit of all of Northern
Michigan. For me this is about the future, our childrens future. So I
have been reaching out to several organizations, business and governmental
agencies exploring opportunities to work together. As a result we were
able to create the Memorandum of Understanding with the Coast Guard that
will have a lasting impact on this region.
Certainly Indian fishing rights have been misunderstood and relationships
with sports fishing groups have been strained, but I have reached past
that and focused on common interests. Now we are working with those
organizations to fight Asian carp and other invasive species to our Great
NE: What about perceptions? How the GTB is viewed in the community?
Bailey: This has been another motivational reason behind my outreach. It
was not to long ago that there were signs in restaurants around Northern
Michigan that either wouldnt allow Indians in or there were designated
seating areas for us. I heard stories about how our tribal fishermen were
We are not that far away those days. So my outreach into the community is
to help all of us get past these biases, stereotypes and misperceptions.
Again, it is thinking about our future and childrens children and leaving
them with a legacy that will help them prosper.
NE: What is proper, Native American or Indian?
Bailey: We are the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, now
I speak from my perspective, but if someone asks me if I am Indian,
Ottawa, Native American or American Indian those are all fine and
typically acceptable with everyone. It is the slang names that are not
acceptable. But I like to simply be called and to call all I meet neejee
Tribal Chairman Derek Bailey encourages those interested in learning more
about the GTB operation to visit their website at www.gtbandindians.org .
Note: in the August 22 issue of the Express some quotes were
inadvertently attributed to Lt. Commander Jon Spaner of the U.S. Coast
Guard. The article has been corrected in our online version of the paper