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A History of Neglect

Beginning in 1934, the federal government in practice withdrew financial support for Indian tribes in Michigan. This action occurred because the federal government assumed that it treaty and legislatively based

Govenor William Comstock
Govenor William Comstock

responsibilities towards Indians in Michigan would be fulfilled by the state government. The basis for this belief was a document commonly referred to as the "Comstock Agreement."

In the early 1930's, as the federal government prepared to abandon the Indian School it had operated in Mount Pleasant, the state expressed an interest in taking over the buildings and property. Negotiations ensued and in 1934 Congress passed the necessary legislation to transfer the property from the federal government to the state. As part of this transfer of land and buildings, then Michigan Governor William Comstock wrote to the Secretary of the Interior:

As Governor of the State, in accepting this grant [of the Indian School] I acknowledge the condition that the State of Michigan will receive and care for in State institutions Indians resident within the state on entire equality with persons of other races and without cost to the Federal government.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs believed that, by virtue of this letter, the Bureau's role in Michigan was reduced to little more than serving as a custodian of Indian lands. The federal government took the position that in return for the Mount Pleasant School, Michigan would make good on all the other practical and financial obligations that the federal government owed Indians in the state. For a period of nearly thirty years, however, state government, in practice, did little or nothing to assume the responsibilities the Comstock agreement seemingly transferred to the state.