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Prairie Band Chairman Joseph Rupnick (center) stands with other members of Prairie Band after he signed over the title to 130 acres of land to the federal government, making Prairie Band the first federally recognized tribal nation in Illinois Friday, April 19, 2024.

Prairie Band Chairman Joseph Rupnick (center) stands with other members of Prairie Band after he signed over the title to 130 acres of land to the federal government, making Prairie Band the first federally recognized tribal nation in Illinois Friday, April 19, 2024.

Prairie Band Potawatomi becomes first federally recognized tribal nation in Illinois

The first federally recognized tribal nation in Illinois has been established after a federal decision placed 130 acres into trust.

The U.S. Department of the Interior placed parts of Shab-eh-nay Reservation land in DeKalb County into trust for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, giving the tribal nation sovereignty over the land.

That means the land — which sits just southeast of Shabbona, about 70 miles west of Chicago and was purchased by Prairie Band years ago — will be governed by the tribal nation, which is now eligible for federal benefits and protections as a result.

The title for the land was signed over on Friday by Prairie Band Chairman Joseph Rupnick.

The decision is part of attempts to correct the “historic injustice” that occurred 175 years ago when the U.S. government auctioned off nearly 1,300 acres of Prairie Band’s land in northern Illinois while Chief Shab-eh-nay was visiting family in Kansas, according to the tribal nation.



Prairie Band Chairman Joseph Rupnick (left) signs over the title to 130 acres of land to the federal government, making Prairie Band the first federally recognized tribal nation in Illinois Friday, April 19, 2024.

Prairie Band Chairman Joseph Rupnick (left) signs over the title to 130 acres of land to the federal government, making Prairie Band the first federally recognized tribal nation in Illinois Friday, April 19, 2024.

Rupnick, the fourth-generation great grandson of Chief Shab-eh-nay, said it was a “significant step in the pursuit of justice for our people and ancestors”

“Prairie Band has sought to continue our history as an original part of DeKalb County and right historical wrongs,” Rupnick said in a statement. “We have been asking for this recognition and for what is rightfully ours for nearly 200 years, and we are grateful to the U.S. Department of Interior for this.”

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14), who co-sponsored legislation to help return the land to Prairie Band, said it was the first step on the government’s end to “correct a historic injustice.”

“Our federal government unlawfully sold the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s land in Illinois,” Underwood said in a statement. “The decision to put portions of the Shab-eh-nay Reservation into Trust is an important step to returning the land that is rightfully theirs.”

A proposed bill in the Illinois statehouse filed in February would give Shabbona State Park, a total of about 1,500 acres, to the Prairie Band as well, though that legislation has yet to make it out of committee.

A Prairie Band spokesperson said if the bill is approved, the park would remain open to the public.

The legislation — which has been on hold pending a land appraisal — would require the Prairie Band to maintain the land as a public conservation area, or else face a multimillion dollar fine from the federal government, according to the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights.



The Prairie Brand Reservation in Dekalb County.

The Prairie Brand Reservation in Dekalb County.

Walker said he’s confident the bill will advance, calling it a way to right historic wrongs “without too much harm” to those who live on the land taken from Chief Shab-eh-nay.

“This issue is kind of a shame in our history that we just have to resolve,” Walker said. “If there’s a way to resolve it, we ought to do it.”

The tribal nation also said they wanted to pursue the “least disruptive path” to regaining their land, and said all current homeowners there will retain the titles to their homes and can continue living “undisturbed.” No plans currently exist but the tribal nation said it is evaluating different potential uses for the land.

Prairie Band leaders previously proposed a gaming facility for the land in 2016, but those plans never materialized.



A 2016 artist’s rendering of the class II gaming facility proposed by Prairie Band for their reservation.

A 2016 artist’s rendering of the class II gaming facility proposed by Prairie Band for their reservation.

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