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Hola es su centro para mantenerse informado, compartir ideas y conectarse con recursos. (Hola is your hub to stay informed, share ideas, and connect with resources in northern Illinois.)

New reservation in DeKalb County draws optimism and uncertainty

Maria Gardner Lara

The designation of a new reservation in Illinois has drawn optimism and uncertainty in the community surrounding the new nation.

The Village of Shabbona is adorned with nods to the American Indian nation that once dominated the area. The village itself was named after Chief Sha-be-nay, who was the head of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation that once dominated the area. Due to a mix of treaties and what the federal government has recognized as the nation’s claim of theft, they were pushed off the land.

Today, on the village’s main street on U.S. Route 30, there’s construction happening to beautify the area, in order to attract new businesses to occupy the empty storefronts and woo visitors.

Joshua Snyder, the owner of Up Realty, moved into the area less than a year ago.

Snyder said he hasn’t heard much about the new reservation, “but I mostly favor it.”

In April, the U.S. Department of the Interior granted the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation sovereignty rights over 130 acres of land located in DeKalb County. Reports say the struggle to rectify this wrong has been going on for 180 years.

Shabbona Village is the closest town to the reservation that lies just outside of its jurisdiction.

This is just a small portion of their claim to over 1200 acres, most of which is located in what is now Shabbona Lake State Park.

There’s a bill in the Illinois Legislature that would transfer the park to the nation since most of the former reservation lies under the state’s jurisdiction.

Snyder said he supports the proposal.

“First you don’t use state resources on maintaining it,” he said. “They can potentially build it up and do whatever they want with it to increase revenue and tourist attraction.”

The reservation contains a farm and two houses located in a small cul-de-sac, in a neighborhood of less than two dozen homes.

Some of those folks say they have fears and uncertainty for what’s to come.

Don Komes, who's lived in his home for four years, said, “It could be a casino, it could be anything hotels, and if you look at this neighborhood, is pretty much rural country."

"We don't want to see change.”

The cluster of homes actually has a suburban look. It’s surrounded by farmland on one side and a golf course on another.

And news reports and village trustees say proposals for building a casino or a bingo hall have been scrapped since gambling sites have popped up nearby in Rockford and Aurora. Other ideas include building a heritage museum or a lodge.

Komes also opposes a state bill to transfer the state park to the nation.

“We hate to see the park change,’ he said. “That's the reason we moved here so we can enjoy the park.”

The nation’s chairman, Joseph Rupnick, has publicly stated that if they do become owners of the park, visitors wouldn’t notice much of a difference. In addition, he said the nation would pursue agreements with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to manage the park.

Still, Komes is concerned about what’s to come of his property.

“They were trying to tie our titles into the reservation, basically,’ Komes said. "Right now, I don't know if that's on the table or not. They keep changing and nobody informs us. We would like to be informed of what's going on.”

There’s not much movement on the federal bill re- introduced by Illinois Congressman Chuy Garcia and co-sponsored by Illinois Representative Lauren Underwood in 2023 that would compensate the nation for over 1,000 acres of land that was wrongfully taken from the nation, with an initial payment of $10 million dollars. The bill would also entitle the nation to continue to purchase land that was once part of the reservation.

For Shabbona Village trustees, they say they recognize there’s a lot of uncertainty but overall, they’re hopeful the reservation will have a positive impact.

“Having those other entities," Shabbona Village Trustee Allison Kidd Probst said, "whether it's Potawatomi, or it's other entities in the village to work with and provide more opportunities and resources for the community and everybody, is really what we're trying to do."

She said the park under their ownership with any development they build on it, can only benefit the town and could bring in outside revenue from visitors.

“Being able to bring those people who are coming out here to the state park and potentially whatever else may come along," she said, "to be able to bring them into the village and have more, shops or businesses that can provide services to those people."

Trustee Marc Cinnamon said if the nation takes a hold of the lake, there's possibility they’ll build a lodge to give an option to the estimated half a million visitors that visit the park every year.

He says partnerships with the nation will save the village money in improving infrastructure like the water and sanitary system.

The support for the state bill to transfer the park to the nation has grown in support since the federal designation.

But State Representative Bradley Fritts, who represents the area, opposes the state measure.

“Once that land becomes reservation land," he said, "we as the state of Illinois and the General Assembly, we do not have any authority over that land anymore.”

Since the federal designation, the tribal nation has hired a consultant to work on next steps, In the meantime, village leaders will continue to seek ways to attract investment in the area.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . 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 periodismo de gobierno.