In April 2024, the U.S. Department of the Interior placed portions of the Shab-eh-nay Reservation land into trust for Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, affirming it as the only federally recognized Reservation in Illinois.

The news comes 175 years after the U.S. government illegally auctioned off 1,280 acres of Prairie Band’s Reservation land near what is now the village of Shabbona in southern DeKalb County when Chief Shab-eh-nay traveled from his home Reservation to visit his family in Kansas.

What is Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation?

Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation is a federally recognized Tribal Nation with roots in northern Illinois. 

Our people – the Potawatomi people of Northern Illinois – were removed from our homelands in the early 1800s. At around that time, as part of the Treaty of Chicago, we relinquished 28 million acres of our homeland in the Great Lakes region to the U.S. government.

While we relinquished 28 million acres, we did not relinquish our 1,280 acre Reservation in what is now DeKalb County. The U.S. Senate at the time even affirmed this Reservation as ours and it was not ceded to the U.S. government. 

Despite this, in 1849, the U.S. government illegally auctioned off 1,280 acres of Chief Shab-eh-nay’s home Reservation in northern Illinois when he traveled to visit family in Kansas. Since that time, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation has been working to reclaim their stolen land. 

Currently Shab-eh-nay’s Reservation located in DeKalb County is occupied by the State of Illinois (Shabbona Lake State Park), the DeKalb County government (Chief Shabbona Forest Preserve), and approximately two dozen residential properties.

The Nation is now headquartered in Mayetta, Kan. but continues to call northern Illinois home, and is heavily involved in the community and throughout the state. 

How common are Indian Reservations throughout the United States?

Very! There are more states with reservations than without.

There are 574 federally recognized Tribes across 36 states. This status arises from treaties between the Nation and the U.S. government. No other Tribe has entered into more treaties with the U.S. Government than Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. All of them have been broken.

Illinois is a state built on Native land, but up until but up until our lands were put in trust in April 2024, it was one of only 15 states without a federally recognized Tribe.

How did Prairie Band get the land that was put in trust?

Although the U.S. government illegally auctioned off 1,280 acres of Reservation land in what is now southern DeKalb County, the land rightfully belongs to Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation – as affirmed by multiple treaties and reaffirmed by the U.S. Department of the Interior under President George W. Bush’s administration in 2001. 

Since the land hasn’t yet legally been returned to Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, the Nation spent nearly $10 million over the course of 15 years to repurchase a total of 130 acres that fall on the original Reservation land. 

We then petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior – Bureau of Indian Affairs to have the 130 acres placed into trust, affirming the Nation’s sovereignty.

What does it mean to have Reservation land put in trust? 

These three parcels totaling 130 acres are lands the Nation has previously reacquired, all of which are within the original reservation boundaries. Placing the land into trust means Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation signed over the legal land titles to the United States to be held in trust for the Nation. Since the land is placed into trust, it is definitively “Indian country” for purposes of Nation, Federal, and State jurisdiction.

 There are two processes for the Department of Interior to take lands into trust for a federally recognized tribe on a discretionary basis. One process is for lands within the boundaries of that tribe’s reservation, and the other is for lands that are off-reservation. Importantly, these lands are being placed into trust pursuant to the on-reservation process. 

What can PBPN do with the land once its in Trust?

The Nation has a wide variety of options for utilization of the trust lands. The Nation’s leadership is considering potential uses but no decisions on changes in use have been made at this time.

Who’s responsible for governing the 130 acres now that it’s once again a Reservation designated for a federally recognized Tribal Nation?

Indian tribal governments have jurisdiction within their reservations over criminal law enforcement over Indians (concurrent with federal government), civil regulatory authority over business activities, environmental and natural resource management, hunting and fishing, education and social welfare. 

 Prairie Band intends to oversee a seamless transition of public services. 

The continuity of public safety is very important to Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. That’s why we may seek to establish a Memorandum of Agreement with local law enforcement to ensure effective coordination. 

Does PBPN plan to do any development with the land?

Reclaiming our land has been our life’s work for so many years. Now that we have reclaimed a portion of it, our people plan to thoughtfully and deliberately evaluate potential uses for the land before making any decisions. 

The Nation will carefully evaluate potential uses for the land. 

What are restrictions/coordination with law enforcement on the land that’s in Trust?

Criminal jurisdiction in Indian country is complex. While the state and local governments have limited criminal jurisdiction in Indian country, the Nation may seek to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with local law enforcement to ensure continuity of adequate and efficient law enforcement services for the Trust lands.

 How does this newly designation reservation impact taxes for the county? 

The county and other local taxing authorities will no longer have jurisdiction to assess real property taxes against the Trust lands.

What does this news about designated Reservation land mean for homeowners who have property on the Reservation?

No one understands what it feels like to lose the place you call home better than Indians. That’s why Prairie Band has sought to reclaim our land free of lawsuits and in the least disruptive way possible for the current residents and homeowners.

We are committed to ensuring that current homeowners can continue to retain title to their land and to live in their homes undisturbed. 

Currently, deeds for homeowners within the Reservation are subject to “all rights, claims, or title to the descendants of a Potawatomi Indian Chieftain named Shabbona and his Band.” 

We have legislation making its way through Congress that would wipe deeds clean of that clause in favor of assuring current homeowners that their property is theirs without condition. 

What is the status of the federal legislation that would address homeowner concerns? 

The legislation (Senate bill 1492 and House Bill 3144) has been filed but has not yet had a committee hearing this Congress.

The legislation would resolve the wrongful act of the federal government selling Prairie Band land without authorization.  

It would provide a damages payment for the lost use of the Reservation for 175 years and recognize the authority of the Prairie Band to acquire additional lands. Iin exchange, the Prairie Band would clear their title interest to the lands occupied by homeowners within the Reservation.  

What steps is the Nation taking to reclaim more of its original Reservation land?

Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation has been deprived of its ownership and use of its Shab-eh-nay Reservation in DeKalb County since the 1830s. During this time, the Nation has been denied the cultural, social, and economic benefit of those lands.

The whole of our original Reservation that legally belongs to us has yet to be returned. Even though 130 acres has now been put into trust, not a single acre that was stolen from us per violation of U.S. treaty has been returned to us. The Nation paid nearly $10 million to buy back those 130 acres that are part of our original reservation. 

Legislation making its way through the Illinois Legislature in Springfield would transfer Shabbona Lake State Park in DeKalb County to Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, on whose Reservation the park currently sits.

Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation has committed to keep the park open to the public, and to improve the infrastructure and experience of the park if the legislation passes and is signed into law.