The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Potawatomi Nation establishes first federally recognized tribal reservation in Illinois


The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation has officially established Illinois’ first federally recognized tribal reservation, which includes 130 acres of land in Dekalb County that was put into trust for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation by the Department of the Interior. The tribal nation now has sovereignty over the land known as Shabbona Lake State Park. 

Tribal Chairman of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Joseph “Zeke” Rupnick, explained the historical significance of the land to the nation and for his family. Rupnick is a direct descendent of Chief Shab-Eh-Nay — the Chief who signed the 1833 Treaty of Chicago among others.

The Treaty of Chicago was one of 44 treaties Prairie Band Potawatomi signed with the U.S. government and included the illegal sale of Native American land. “We ceded 5 million acres to the U.S. government,” Rupnick said. “Some of that land was earmarked for Prairie Band Potawatomi.”

Rupnick continued by explaining that when former President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, it involved the forced removal of all Native Americans living East of the Mississippi River. 

“We were rounded up at gunpoint and forced to leave, eventually making our way to Council Bluffs, Iowa,” Rupnick said. “In Iowa, we purchased land in Kansas with the money from the sale of that 5 million acres, a 30 by 30 mile reservation.”

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Rupnick went into further detail about his personal connection to this announcement and his family’s history in advocating for native rights.

“This has been a fight that we’ve been fighting for the past 180 years,” Rupnick stated. “A majority of my family has been fighting this and, really, it was (in) the last 35 years when my mom was chairperson at that time (that we) really started petitioning the U.S congress to right this historical wrong.”

The sale from the Treaty of Chicago was ruled illegitimate following the Supreme Court’s 2020 Ruling in McGirt vs. Oklahoma, which was based on the 1796 Non-Intercourse Act. In section 12 of the Non-Intercourse Act, it states that “no purchase, grant … or other conveyance of lands … from any Indian, or nation or tribe of indians, within the bounds of the United States, shall be of any validity, in law or equity, unless the same be made by treaty, or convention, entered into, pursuant to the constitution.”

Rupnick continued by citing Article VI of the United States Constitution, which explains that all treaties entered into the authority of the U.S. government are the supreme law of the land. 

“The only way for a reservation to be disestablished or another reservation to be established is through an act of congress,” Rupnick said. “The Supreme Court ruled that unless Congress specifically disestablished a reservation, it still exists. So, with that argument, we applied for trust status on reservation in Illinois, because based on our research, that reservation was never disestablished in any treaty.”

Currently, there are non-tribal members residing on Potawatomi land. This situation is commonly referred to as “checkerboarding,” meaning that there are non tribal members living within the boundaries of the reservation. 

“We are willing to clear those individuals’ titles, because right now they have what is called a clouded title, because it is illegally sold land that is subject to Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation,” Rupnick said.

As of now, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation has not established a plan for development on the land. 

“Our first priority was to secure the status of the land before we started seriously looking at developing anything on there,” Rupnick said. “We are just in the beginning stages of that, so hopefully that can steer us in the right direction of what we are going to be able to build that would benefit both the nation and the community.”


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