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State won’t be trading land with Native American tribe after legislation stalls

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(The Center Square) – A statehouse measure would have authorized Illinois to give ownership of Shabbona Lake State Park to the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, but the bill didn’t advance this legislative session despite lawmakers saying the bill would have righted a historical wrong.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi said that in the late 1800s, white settlers stole land away from Chief Shab-eh-nay’s home reservation in northern Illinois when the chief traveled to visit family in Kansas for a few years.

“This is a win-win-win. This [the bill] keeps this beautiful public asset available to members of the public, it resolves two centuries of disputed title to this land and most importantly it fixes a promise we, the United States, broke to the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation 185 years ago,” said Guzzardi, D-Chicago.

State Rep. Bradley Fritts, R-Dixon, questioned why the Potawatomi Nation, through this legislation, would receive 200 extra acres of land than initially promised in the 1829 Treaty of Prairie du Chien. The treaty indicates the land belongs to the nation, but only 1,280 acres not the whole 1,500. After that treaty was made, the federal government declared the reservation land abandoned and sold it at public auction.

“So if it’s roughly 1,500 acres and they [Prairie Band Potawatomi] were guaranteed 1,280 acres, why are we giving extra acres than they were ever guaranteed in the first place?” asked Fritts.

“I suppose you might consider it an interest payment on 200 years of stolen land,” said Guzzardi.

Fritts said the Illinois taxpayers would be on the hook for an interest payment of 200 acres, but argued the state of Illinois never entered into the federal treaty recognizing the land as the Potawatomi Nation’s land. The state owns most of the 1,500 acres and it’s currently known as Shabbona Lake State Park. The land is a public asset worth $15 million.

Guzzardi argued the state is obligated to make good on a federal treaty crafted in 1829 because the state purchased the land, which is in DeKalb County.

“The state got itself involved in this issue by purchasing the land using federal funds. [The state] purchased land that everyone recognizes, legally, belongs to the nation,” said Guzzardi.

Fritts argued that if they say it is in fact their land and it was illegally taken from them, then the Potawatomi Nation could take it to court. He asked about why the nation isn’t utilizing the judicial system and emphasized it’s not the state’s agreement to make good on.

“Why isn’t the federal government the one making right on this if it is a federal issue, it was a federal treaty and a federal agreement between them and the nation?” asked Fritts, whose district includes the Shabbona Lake State Park.

“The federal government has had many opportunities to make right on this in the last 180 years. But today we have an opportunity to make it right ourselves,” said Guzzardi.

Guzzardi argued the reason why the nation isn’t utilizing the courts is because as the original treaty was written the nation would get half a state park and a bunch of private land.

The legislation sought to make a trade. The nation would get the state park, the 1,500 acres, and then they would in exchange clear titles to the 30 private property owners who are on land that originally belonged to the nation back in 1829 before it was auctioned off because the chief abandoned it to go to Kansas.

Fritts said Illinois and the nation don’t have the authority to clear the titles of privately held land and that Congress is the only authority with that power.

“Say down the road they do take this to court and they say that this is their land. There’s only two things that could happen: One, they’re [the federal government] going to pay them off for the land or two, they’re going to take said land by eminent domain and pay my property owners off. I don’t think there’s a court in this nation that’s going to unseat 30 property owners that own and operate the land,” said Fritts.

Fritts argued that if the land becomes the nation’s then his constituents could be in danger because after going through the reservation process it becomes private land that municipal authorities don’t have jurisdiction in. The legislation sought to keep the land for public use and allowed the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to maintain the land, but it’d be owned by the nation.

After Guzzardi’s measure was pulled from consideration after not having the proper notes attached, the Senate approved their own measure, but that was never brought up in the House. Legislators adjourned for the summer.

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