During a news conference held in Shabbona, Illinois, on August 11, 2022, PBPN Chairman Joseph “Zeke” Rupnick and government representatives addressed members of the media and those gathered on Tribal property to announce the most recent developments in the ongoing struggle of the Tribe to regain land that was illegally taken almost 200 years ago.
During the press conference, U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04) and U.S.
Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14) detailed their plan to help right a centuries-long injustice. They announced their filing of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Shab-eh-nay Band Reservation Settlement Act of 2021, which would allow PBP Nation to acquire 1,151 acres of land near Shabbona State Park to compensate for the U.S. Government’s illegal act of selling off its original land.
Chairman Rupnick said, “This is a historical day, and we’ve made much progress in what we’ve worked towards for the last 200 years, trying to reclaim the land that was given to Chief Shab-eh-nay when we signed the 1832 Treaty of Chicago. On that treaty, we ceded 5,000,000 acres of land, and this land was supposed to be given to him and his descendants.”
He went on to note that along with many of the seniors, members of the Tribal Council in attendance, as well as himself, are direct descendants of Chief Shab-eh-nay. “I want to thank Congressman Garcia and Congresswoman Underwood for their leadership in filing the bill in the House and moving this forward to see this injustice corrected,” Rupnick said.
“It has been far too long since the U.S. government
unlawfully forced the Potawatomi Nation out of its land and sold it,” Rep. García said during the press conference. “There is absolutely no doubt that the Potawatomi Nation deserves a home in Dekalb County and it’s way past time to return what is rightfully theirs.
“This legislation would address nearly 200 years of injustice by providing a pathway for the Nation to reclaim land that was stolen from them. I look forward to working with Congressman García to advance this legislation through the House,” Rep. Underwood said, whose congressional district borders the village of Shabbona.
Earlier this year, Illinois state Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) and state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago) passed a bipartisan resolution in the Illinois legislature urging Congress to take action because Congress is the only governing body that has the authority to designate land titles for native nations.
Rep. Demmer, Sen. Pacione-Zayas, Sen. Karina Villa (D-West Chicago), and DeKalb County Board members were all in attendance to show their support.
When the Potawatomi Tribe signed the 1832 treaty of Chicago with the U.S. Government, most of the tribe moved to Kansas, and in 1846 another treaty with the government saw them purchase land in Kansas where many Tribal Members still reside.
After the move to Kansas, Chief Shab-eh-nay and his family went to visit his people, and that was when the government illegally auctioned off his land, claiming he abandoned it. At that time there were no vehicles allowing him to get there in a day. He had to go on horseback, and the trip was measured in weeks to get to Kansas and then travel back.
Rupnick said, “I think during that time, being the big Indian removal period, this was the excuse they were looking for to say, ‘now is the time when we can take over all this land,’ and that’s what they did.” He went on to say, “Now, it’s up to Congress to correct the actions taken by their predecessors. Congress is the only body that can correct this issue. Working toward this has been my focus and the focus of Tribal Council to get Congress to act so we can fully recognize our rightful claim. I hope that this legislation passes so we can finally be whole again.”