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Potawatomi nation's claim to land in DeKalb County gains support from Washington D.C.

Potawatomi Prairie Band Chairman Joseph Rupnick
Maria Gardner Lara
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Potawatomi Prairie Band Chairman Joseph Rupnick speaks during a press conference surrounded by federal, state and local elected officials and Prairie Band leaders on August 11, 2022 in in DeKalb County, Illinois.

A Native American nation with roots in Illinois hailed a new federal bill as progress in their struggle to reclaim reservation land illegally sold by the government nearly 200 years ago.

The bill filed by Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood would require the federal government to compensate Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation financially and permit the nation to purchase over a thousand acres of land in the Shabbona State Park.

Prairie Band Chairman Joseph Rupnick says this was an important step towards getting justice with benefits for all concerned.

“We've been working hard to correct this historical wrong, and I hope that this legislation passes and that we give these folks here that are living in these houses a sense of comfort knowing that they're able to pass that land down,” Rupnick said.

Under the bill, those who own land within the reservation boundaries would gain the deed to their property and end the nation’s claims to it.

Congressman Garcia said the Department of the Interior established the tribe’s claim to the land over two decades ago.

“It's way past due for the Potawatomi Nation to recover what is rightfully theirs,” Garcia said. “The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation deserves a home in DeKalb County.”

Garcia said the bill has received bipartisan support but gave no indication on whether it will pass this fall.

While the issue must be resolved at the federal level, efforts to gain local support have gotten mixed results.

In the spring, state Rep. Tom Demmer, a Republican from Dixon, and state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, a Democrat from Chicago, sponsored a resolution in support of the Potawatomi claims that passed with bipartisan support in the General Assembly.

The DeKalb County Board considered a similar resolution but failed along partisan lines with Republicans voting against the measure. Some Democratic Board members said they are hopeful the issue can be revisited after reviewing the federal bill.

A Chicago native, Maria graduated from the University of Illinois Springfield with a master's in public affairs. Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en relaciones públicas.