Posted on June 25, 2024

Illinois May Soon Return Land the US Stole From a Prairie Band Potawatomi Chief 175 Years Ago

John O'Connor, Associated Press, June 23, 2024

Some 175 years after the U.S. government stole land from the chief of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation while he was away visiting relatives, Illinois may soon return it to the tribe.

Nothing ever changed the 1829 treaty that Chief Shab-eh-nay signed with the U.S. government 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 U.S. 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 (607-hectare) state park west of Chicago, which was named after Shab-eh-nay, to the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. 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 U.S. took from Chief Shab-eh-nay. The boundaries of his original 1,280-acre (518-hectare) reservation now encompass hundreds of acres of privately owned land, a golf course and county forest preserve. The legislation awaiting Illinois House approval would transfer the Shabbona Lake State Recreation Area.


Many residents who live next to the park oppose the plan, fearing construction of a casino or even a hotel would draw more tourists and lead to a larger, more congested community.

“Myself and my family have put a lot of money and given up a lot to be where we are in a small community and enjoy the park the way that it is,” resident Becky Oest told a House committee in May, asking that the proposal be amended to prohibit construction that would “affect our community. It’s a small town. We don’t want it to grow bigger.”