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Schrader: The Potawatomis are coming

Wish-kuk-ke-ash-kuk is his Potawatomi name but Ryan Dyer is the English name he uses most of the time.

He is one of the seven members of the Tribal Council – he serves as treasurer – that governs the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation that includes some 4,800 people.

In a phone interview with him from his home in Kansas, I learned a lot about this tribe that once occupied all of the lands around DeKalb County and much more of the Midwest before the influx of white settlers as the United States pushed westward.

Dyer will be coming to DeKalb County on April 14, along with the Tribal Council secretary Wabaunsee, also known as James Potter, the invited speaker at our annual dinner meeting of the DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society, being held at the Indian Oaks Country Club near Shabbona.

Since most everyone in our county knows the history of Chief Shabbona, who lived in southern DeKalb County back in the early 1800s, I won’t repeat the story of his life. If you would like to know more, the historical society is publishing a booklet written by the late Marilyn Rasmusen about the chief and his Prairie Band. It will be available at the annual dinner for $6 and afterward at museums around the county. Her history was originally compiled for a seven-part series currently running in The Cornsilk, quarterly magazine of the historical society.

Now getting back to my conversation with the Tribal treasurer Dyer, he told me they are soon to publish a book tracing the lineage of Chief Shab-eh-nay and his descendants. It is being written by a history professor from the University of Michigan.

Asked about their plans for the 128-acre parcel near the village of Shabbona they purchased in 2006, Dyer explained that the tribe contends that the land has been reserved for them since they and the United States signed the Treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1829, and that the Potawatomi plan to build a gaming facility on the land. The county sent a letter to the National Indian Gaming Commission in May 2007 requesting a clear determination from the federal government as to whether the land is a reservation, which county officials contend is necessary to operate a gaming facility. The tribe has said it does not need Gaming Commission approval, but has said it has not built on the land because it prefers to avoidá possible litigation.

Dyer said the name of the reservation in DeKalb County will be the Shab-eh-nay Reservation, a part of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, governed by the same Tribal Council. He added that they have a “rich and long history with this land for nearly 200 years and are an integral part of the culture and history of this area.”

Ryan’s grandmother was a full-blooded Potawatomi, and his grandfather was a Choctaw. He grew up in nearby Wichita and first attended Haskell Indian National University where he earned an Associate of Arts degree before completing his college education at Kansas State University. Even though his family no longer owns land on the reservation, his daily commute is to the Tribal Council offices there.

Once the Prairie Band is re-established here, I am hopeful they will share their culture and ceremonies with us later inhabitants of the county. I recall fondly two large Pow Wows I attended in northern California, which were a two- or three-day celebration of more than one tribe in that area. Their native dress, foods, dancing and music are something to behold.

Barry Schrader was editor of the Daily Chronicle from 1969-1972 and later worked at newspapers in San Francisco’s East Bay. He and his wife are retired and live in DeKalb. Visit his Web site, www.dekalbcountylife.com, for an archive of columns. Reach Barry at barry815@sbcglobal.net or P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.

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