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News

County and tribe closer to agreement

DeKalb County and the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation are &#8220much closer to an agreement” on how the two would work together if the tribe builds on land it owns north of Shabbona, county officials said last week. The negotiating teams of the two entities met recently and had what County Administrator Ray Bockman called &#8220a very productive discussion about an agreement.” The two governments have been meeting since April, when the county board agreed to re-enter negotiations with the Potawatomi. While the negotiations are not necessarily about a gaming facility - the tribe has expressed interest in building a 24-hour electronic bingo hall - the agreement would support the tribe in its application to the federal government to build such a facility, Bockman said. It is still unknown when a key issue will be decided, though: The county and the Kansas-based tribe are waiting for a land determination from the National Indian Gaming Commission as to whether the area in question is a reservation. The designation is important because an Indian gaming facility can only be build on land that the government recognizes as a reservation. It benefits the county to talk with the Potawatomi before the land determination is made, Bockman said earlier this week, because the tribe will be bound by any agreements already established between the two governments. The proposed agreement covers a number of issues, Bockman said, including land use and who would have jurisdiction over any crimes committed on the land. It also could include liquor law understandings, he added. &#8220Without an agreement, if it is determined to be a reservation, they could be open 24-7,” he said. &#8220An agreement would get them to agree to limit hours to sell liquor that is something more comparable to the rest of county.” The agreement also would address protection of the county's forest preserve and land owned by private residents if it is determined to be a reservation, Bockman said. &#8220From our perspective, the agreement says, ‘Here is what the tribe and county will agree to if the federal government makes a determination that this is tribal land,” Bockman said. &#8220If it's not Indian lands, the agreement is null and void.” Even though the Potawatomi own the land, they need the federal designation to build a gaming facility. If the bingo hall was built and then the land was determined not to be a reservation, the facility would have to close. The Potawatomi purchased 128 acres of land for $8.8 million in April 2006. It's part of 1,280 acres - which includes much of Shabbona Lake State Park - given to Chief Shab-eh-nay in an 1829 treaty. The Potawatomi, descendants of Shab-eh-nay's band, claim that their rights to the land were never extinguished, making the land a reservation. The county isn't as sure, and requested the land determination. All interested parties submitted information to the National Indian Gaming Com-mission by Oct. 1, and the various groups will have time to respond to each others' claims. Bockman estimated that proposal could be presented to county board members within the next two months, after lawyers for both governments review language issues. If the negotiations are wrapped up in the next few months, a workshop will be held for county board members in December, with a public hearing probably in January and potentially a vote that month as well, County Board Chairwoman Ruth Anne Tobias said. Repeated messages left by the Chronicle for acting Potawatomi Tribal Chairman Rey Kitchkumme were not returned. Kate Schott can be reached at kschott@daily-chronicle.com.

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