Lawmakers gather in support of Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s land reclamation efforts in Shabbona
“The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation has a home here in Illinois that the government illegally took from them, and they deserve to be recognized and compensated for the government’s failures,” said U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood
SHABBONA – Federal, state and local elected officials gathered Thursday on 1,280 acres of land in Shabbona to support legislation that would clear a path for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s decadeslong pursuit to reclaim land in southern DeKalb County.
Garcia and U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, filed a bill titled H.R. 8380 Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Shab-eh-nay Band Reservation Settlement Act of 2022 last month. The legislation would allow the Nation to acquire 1,151 acres of land near Shabbona State Park in compensation for what the nation has long held was illegal acquisition of the land by the U.S. government 173 years ago.
While Chief Shab-en-nay visited the Potawatomi nation, which was forced west of the Mississippi River, his 1,280 acres were declared forfeited and the land was auctioned to white settlers in 1849.
“It gives us pleasure that we’re able to move this thing forward and actually get it recognized after almost 200 years,” Rupnick said.
Underwood said she sees it as her responsibility to play a part in righting injustices shown to Indigenous peoples through the colonial history of the United States. She has a direct ability to play that part because only Congress has the legal power to change what was done through treaties.
“When Chief Rupnick first shared this history with me, I knew immediately that I wanted to support the tribe’s effort to reclaim their stolen land,” Underwood said. “The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation has a home here in Illinois that the government illegally took from them, and they deserve to be recognized and compensated for the government’s failures.”
The proposed Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Shab-eh-nay Band Reservation Settlement Act would reaffirm the Potawatomi Nation’s ownership and jurisdiction of the 130 acres within the reservation the Nation reacquired 15 years ago. It also will confirm ownership and title of non-Potawatomi individuals and government occupying the land within the reservation. If the act passes, no one will be forced to give up their land or home. Additionally, the act would establish a process for compensating the Potawatomi Nation for the wrongful taking of the remaining 1,151 acres of land within the original reservation with the authorization of a $10 million payment and it will allow for that money to be used to reacquire the land.
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On Aug. 11, 2022 Chief Joseph Rupnick speaks to press about the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Shab-eh-nay Band Reservation Settlement Act of 2022. Rupnick was joined by local, state and federal lawmakers who support the Nation's reclamation efforts. (Camden Lazenby)
“While this legislation will not entirely right the affront committed against the Potawatomi Nation Shab-eh-nay Band Reservation, it is an important first step toward justice,” Garcia said. “Indigenous people all over the Americas have suffered greatly. This bill helps to build the path to healing here, in our Illinois.”
State officials pass resolutions in hopes of spurring Congress to action
State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, introduced a resolution in support of Garcia and Underwood’s bill in the state House of Representatives earlier this year. The resolution passed the House with bipartisan support, and a similar resolution in the Illinois Senate also passed. Demmer said the resolutions were a strong statement by state leaders of their intent and desire to see the historical wrong righted.
“I think we need to stand together as residents of DeKalb County, as residents of the state of Illinois and as residents of the United States of America to try to bring resolution to this very important issue,” Demmer said.
State Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago, worked on the companion resolution in the state Senate. She said government is supposed to be driven by the people and called the effort to rectify what she called an injustice against the Potawatomi a clear example of community-driven policy. She also said her background helps her empathize with the plight of the Potawatomi Nation.
“I can tell you, as a daughter of the Puerto Rican diaspora, I’m more than familiar with colonialism, with dispossession, with displacement and deconcentration of communities,” Pacione-Zayas said.
Demmer said local feedback has been positive, especially the provision that would end long-disputed deeds and titles of land within the historic acres of the reservation.
“When we explain that, you know, this act of Congress would resolve that dispute on the title, that it’s not going to take their land or homes from them right now. It would simply allow the Prairie Band to purchase land on the open market, just as anybody else could, I think that alleviates quite a few of the concerns locally,” he said.
During Thursday morning’s news conference, DeKalb County Board Vice Chairman Suzanne Willis spoke about the board’s failure in February to pass a resolution that would have urged Congress to pass the settlement act. The DeKalb County Board vote earlier this year fell along partisan lines, with 12 Republicans declining to back a letter of support for the Potawatomi Nation.
“I wish I could say it had bipartisan support, but it did not,” said Willis, a Democrat representing District 10. She said at the time that those who voted against the resolution wanted to see the legislation before they would support it.
“Of course now that the actual legislation is there, I don’t see anybody moving to support that, as well,” Willis said.
Willis said she hopes the County Board can get a bipartisan agreement on the matter and said she may introduce a resolution to endorse the bill now that the legislation is in writing.