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Katie Finlon
Shaw Local News Network

SYCAMORE, Illinois – The DeKalb County board will again take up a request by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation during Native American Heritage Month to support the nation’s longstanding pursuit to reclaim nearby land.

The nation is seeking to reclaim 1,280 acres of land near Shabbona State Park in the southern part of DeKalb County. Under the Federal Non-Intercourse Act, the U.S. Congress is the only governing body with the authority to designate land titles for Native nations. The nation has long sought to reclaim local land and has returned to ask for the County Board’s support in the venture, including that the board write a support letter to Congress.

During the most recent DeKalb County Board meeting in October, Chairman John Frieders requested that the vote be tabled until Nov. 17 to give the board more time to determine where the matter sits at the federal level, first. The board was split on the vote, with 10 voting to pass the resolution.

Frieders previously has said the land reclamation issue is “one of the top priorities of the County Board” and the board was “going to support this moving forward.”

“There is some concern about this resolution in the fact that we do not know what the legislation coming out of Washington is, and we will not know that for awhile here,” Frieders said. “I am suggesting that we table this resolution until we have a clearer picture.”

DeKalb County Board member Kathy Lampkins, who was one of 13 board members who voted in favor of tabling the matter, said she was “not for nor against us doing this,” but voiced concerns about the county writing a letter of support before legislation is written. Lampkins represents District 1, including the townships of Franklin, Malta, Mayfield, Milan, Paw Paw, South Grove and Sycamore, and the village of Shabbona.

"We know that when legislation goes in and when it comes out, it always looks very different,” Lampkins said.

Lampkins said she had “a lot of questions myself,” including where the Potawatomi nation would get its police and fire protection, what the land repossession would mean for landowners in Shabbona and whether “children on the reservation attend school and where.”

DeKalb County Board member Terri Mann-Lamb, who represents District 7, including DeKalb Township, is part of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, a band of the Munsee people who originally settled in New Jersey thousands of years ago. She was among the 10 board members who voted against tabling the matter.

Although Mann-Lamb said she didn’t believe Lampkins meant anything malicious, she said she as a Native American was disappointed to hear the question about whether children on the reservation would attend school.

“Because I feel that – and I don’t like to use words very loosely – but I felt it was racist,” Mann-Lamb said. “I felt it was a counteraction of negativity towards being a Native American. And what brings into my head is when people use the word heathens, because that’s what they used to use. The lower class. You’re not up there at the same level.”

Ramapough Lenape Nation Turtle Clan Chief Vincent Mann, brother of DeKalb County Board member Terri Mann-Lamb, talks via Zoom Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, about issues facing Native Americans today. (Photo by Mark Busch - Busch, Shaw Local News Network)

Ramapough Lenape Nation Turtle Clan Chief Vincent Mann, who is Mann-Lamb’s brother, said his sister has kept him in the loop about the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s land reclamation efforts in DeKalb County. He said he’s doing his own state and federal lobbying related to land and water contamination due to toxic paint sludge in the last several decades from a former New Jersey-based Ford plant.

Although his main issues of interest are more than 800 miles away from Chief Shab-eh-nay’s land, Mann said he hasn’t “bought into the Colonialistic way of thinking” and only caring for his own family or tribe.

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“We are connected – and not just because my sister’s sitting there,“ Mann said. “We’re connected to the Potawatomi. We’re connected to that land. They’re connected to this land. The rights that are inherent and that our ancestors held for us that were agreed upon with the federal government – sometimes even with states – need to be upheld.”

Potawatomi Nation’s history with DeKalb County Board

In October, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation returned to the DeKalb County government to seek the County Board’s aid in a longstanding pursuit to reclaim nearby land. The Potawatomi people were forced out of northern Illinois in the 1830s by the Indian Removal Act.

Joseph Rupnick, chairman for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation said the nation’s Chief Shab-eh-nay, Rupnick’s fourth great-grandfather, was given land near Shabbona in 1829 under the Treaty of Prairie du Chien. However, the land illegally was sold without the chief’s consent in 1849.

The land title was then passed to non-Native Americans.

Since 1849, several individuals, the state of Illinois, the DeKalb County government and corporate entities assumed ownership of the reservation. Only the U.S. Congress can extinguish the Native American land title under the Federal Non-Intercourse Act, however.

Since the mid 1800s, Rupnick said the nation has been working to get the federal government to recognize it is still a reservation and the Potawatomi people still have claim to the land.

The reclamation efforts have been pursued by the nation for years.

In 2015, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation approached the County Board for its blessing to open a Class 2 casino, which would include only bingo, in Shabbona. Rupnick has said the request is not related to the casino and is an attempt to “correct the land issue.”

Porter said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, all of Illinois, have been reviewing the proposed federal legislation that would return the land to the Potawatomi people for about two years. Spokespeople from all three offices were not available for comment.

More recently, Illinois State Rep. Tom Demmer, a Dixon Republican, filed House Resolution 0504 on Oct. 15 in support of “the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s efforts to regain possession of Chief Shab-eh-nay and his band’s land that was illegally sold by the federal government in 1849.”

Mann-Lamb, a Democrat, pointed to Demmer, a Republican, bringing forward the resolution in particular.

“I don’t try to play party stuff. I just don’t believe in that and I believe in working together,” Mann-Lamb said. “But that just shows you that he saw the injustice and wanted to bring that forth. That, to me, is part of that humanity.”

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This story was published via AP StoryShare.