Legislation introduced in the Illinois Legislature calls for the restoration of the Prairie Strip’s Potawatomi Reservation near Chicago
By Levi Rickert
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation officials held a press conference in Springfield, Ill., on Wednesday with Illinois state lawmakers who introduced resolutions to the Illinois Legislature supporting the tribe’s claim to reserve land near the village of Shabbona, near Chicago.
Two separate bills, Senate Resolution 896, sponsored by State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago), and House Resolution 504 sponsored by State Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon ), are calling on the US Congress to pass legislation that would allow the Nation to secure 1,151 acres of land, near Shabbona State Park, in the southern part of DeKalb County, Illinois.
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The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation is a federally recognized Native American tribe that occupied lands in southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and northwestern Indiana. They signed the Prairie du Chien Treaty of 1829, which reserved two sections of land near Paw Paw Grove, Illinois for Chief Potawatomi Shab-en-nay and his band.
“We just want to reclaim the lands that were taken from us and we want to do it in the most communal and least disruptive way,” said Joseph Rupnick, president of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. “We are rooted in the Northern Illinois community and after 170 years, we just want this problem solved.”
State Senator Pacione-Zayas, sponsor of the bill in the Illinois Senate, said it was time to right an injustice.
“As people of the United States, it’s important to recognize the indigenous communities who inhabited this land before us and who continue to inhabit it,” Pacione-Zayas said. “The land of Chief Shab-eh-nay and his band has been sold illegally, and recognition of this act of injustice by the federal government will begin to right the wrong and ensure that the land is recognized as reserved for the Potawatomi people in northern Illinois.”
In the late 1840s, when Chief Shab-eh-nay traveled from his home reservation in DeKalb to visit his family in Kansas, the U.S. government illegally auctioned off more than 1,280 acres of his lands near the village of Shabbona in southern DeKalb County.
In 2001, the U.S. Department of the Interior confirmed the history and legal status of the Shab-eh-nay reservation as a federally recognized Indian country, as the U.S. government never received the required congressional approval to auction land that rightfully belonged to Chief Shab-eh. -No.
The United States Congress is the only governing body empowered to grant land titles to tribal nations.
Currently, the deeds of property owners on the reservation are subject to “all rights, claims or titles of the descendants of a Potawatomi Indian chief named Shabbona and his band”.
Federal legislation currently in the US Senate would erase these acts from this clause in favor of assuring current owners that their property belongs to them unconditionally. It would also provide proper title to the state and DeKalb County governments who also own land in the current reservation.
“The US government made a mistake 170 years ago by illegally selling the Nation’s lands,” Demmer said. “Now, as lawmakers here in Illinois and our congressional counterparts, we have a chance to fix it.”
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