Tribe Could Get Land Stolen by US Government Back

Terms of 1829 treaty remain in effect
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 23, 2024 11:50 AM CDT
Tribe Could Get Illinois Land Stolen by US Long Ago Back
Joseph "Zeke" Rupnick, chairman of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation based in Mayetta, Kansas, seen in a screen grab on June 10.   (AP Photo/John O'Connor)

Some 175 years after the US government stole land from the chief of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation while he was away visiting relatives, Illinois may return it to the tribe. Nothing ever changed the 1829 treaty that Chief Shab-eh-nay signed with the US to preserve for him a reservation in northern Illinois—not subsequent accords nor the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which forced all Indigenous people to move west of the Mississippi. But around 1848, the US sold the land to white settlers while Shab-eh-nay and other members of his tribe were visiting family in Kansas. To right the wrong, Illinois would transfer a 1,500-acre state park west of Chicago, the AP reports.

The state would continue providing maintenance while the tribe says it wants to keep the park as it is. "The average citizen shouldn't know that title has been transferred to the nation so they can still enjoy everything that's going on within the park and take advantage of all of that area out there," said Joseph "Zeke" Rupnick, chairman of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation based in Mayetta, Kansas. It's not entirely the same soil that the US took from Chief Shab-eh-nay. The boundaries of his original 1,280-acre reservation now encompass hundreds of acres of privately owned land, a golf course, and a county forest preserve. Pending Illinois legislation would transfer the Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area.

No one disputes Shab-eh-nay's reservation was illegally sold and still belongs to the Potawatomi. But nothing has changed. Democratic state Rep. Will Guzzardi, who sponsored the legislation, said the deal is a significant concession on the part of the Potawatomi. With various private and public concerns now owning most of the original reservation land, reclaiming it for the Potawatomi would set up a serpentine legal wrangle. "Instead, the tribe has offered a compromise, which is to say, 'We'll take the entirety of the park and give up our claim to the private land and the county land and the rest of that land,'" Guzzardi said. "That's a better deal for all parties involved." The transfer won Illinois Senate approval, but a snag in the House prevented its passage. Proponents will seek the endorsement when the Legislature returns in November.

(More Illinois stories.)

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