Prairie Band Potawatomi land deal clears Senate, will head back to House

Prairie Band Potawatomi land deal clears Senate, will head back to House

By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation is a step closer to acquiring a 1,500-acre state park in DeKalb County, much of which was once part of a reservation that was illegally seized from the tribe in the mid-19 th century.

As the Senate worked through its last stack of bills Sunday before planning to adjourn for the summer, it voted 49-7 to pass Senate Bill 867, which authorizes deeding the property to the tribe for $1.

“Rarely do we get to make amends for the sins of our collective past,” Sen. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, the bill’s chief sponsor, said on the Senate floor. “As you might expect, this bill is to repair the 150 years we have suffered with a moral wound.”

The Prairie Band Potawatomi were originally granted a reservation of roughly two square miles – about 1,280 acres – in the 1829 Treaty of Prairie du Chien. But around 1849, Chief Shab-eh-nay traveled west to northeast Kansas, where many other members of the tribe had relocated. While he was gone, the federal government declared the reservation land abandoned and sold it at public auction.

In the 1970s, the state of Illinois used federal grant funds to buy about 1,500 acres that now make up Shabbona Lake and State Park. That land partially overlaps the original reservation. Other parts of the original reservation consist of county-owned property and about 30 private homes.

The bill represents one part of the Prairie Band Potawatomi’s long-running effort to reestablish its presence in Illinois. The tribe also recently acquired 130 acres in the area, and last month the U.S. Department of the Interior formally placed that land in trust, making it the only federally recognized tribal reservation in Illinois.

Acquisition of the 1,500 acres of park land would greatly expand the Potawatomi’s footprint in the area. But that has made some residents who live nearby nervous about the future of the community, especially if the tribe decides to develop a casino or make other major changes to the park area.

The issue has also made some state lawmakers nervous, especially those unaccustomed to working with issues involving tribal relations.

“This just came up and we’re receiving a lot of opposition, and this is unique to our state,” Republican Sen. Sue Rezin, of Morris, who represents a neighboring district, said during a committee hearing Saturday.

Tribal officials have said they have no plans to develop a casino in the area, noting that a casino already exists in downtown Aurora, only about 45 minutes to the east.

Sen. Win Stoller, R-East Peoria, whose district includes the park land, said he believes residents of the area have nothing to fear from the land transfer.

“The Prairie Band have committed to keeping the park open to the public and even have plans to improve the infrastructure and experiences available in the park,” he said on the Senate floor. “Local officials including the mayor of Shabbona are in support. I believe this is the right thing to do.”

The bill next moves to the House, which is scheduled to reconvene Tuesday to wrap up its business for the spring session.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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