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Local Column

Schrader: Land prices and the Potawatomi

Farmland can go for $10,000 an acre or more in DeKalb County, but only once has it fetched the astronomical sum of $69,069 a acre.

In 2006, the 128-acre farm of Adeline Ward near Shabbona went for $8.8 million. The Prairie Band Nation of the Potawatomi Tribe was buying back land that used to be owned by their ancestral leader Chief Shab-eh-nay, which was given in exchange for the tribe signing the 1829 Treaty of Prairie du Chien. At that time the reservation size was 1,280 acres around the Shabbona (altered spelling of the chief’s name by whites) area.

The tribe’s announced intention in 2006 was to build a bingo casino and tribal government center on the land. But some snags at the federal level and in the economy have kept the land fallow, some now in native prairie grasses with the majority leased for crop farming.

All this came to my mind recently when several Prairie Band Nation tribal council members came up from their Mayetta, Kansas, reservation for a ceremony rededicating the newly-replaced historical marker to their legendary chief in what is now the Shabbona Forest Preserve.

I didn’t feel it appropriate on that occasion to ask them about their future plans concerning the reservation and casino, so waited until a few days later to call them back in Kansas. What I received was a prepared statement from Joyce Guerrero, vice chairperson of the Tribal Council. In it she reiterated their intention to “continue to pursue plans to operate a facility that would accommodate Class II Bingo” on their reservation land.

The Potawatomi already have negotiated agreements with the DeKalb County Board, Village of Shabbona and various other local entities regarding costs and revenue sharing when, and if, the facility becomes a reality. In addition to that, they have employed the services of a high powered Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker, which specializes in promoting and defending tribal rights.

After reaching an agreement with the County Board in 2008, a letter was sent to the appropriate federal agency to obtain a ruling on the reservation’s legitimacy, but there is no record of a response. In checking with the DeKalb County Administrator’s office, they have no knowledge of a follow-up by the former county administrator and no correspondence in the files. The tribe’s leaders must be frustrated by this, but other tribes have had similar delays when dealing with the federal government, I am told. However, they do have the income from a multimillion-dollar casino and resort in Kansas to keep them afloat.

With the increase in competition for gaming dollars in Illinois, especially the addition of video gambling in every part of the state, one wonders if their plans will have to be changed to seek an expanded gaming license, or consider using the land for other purposes. There is one high end crop that could bring in the dollars – if it is legal to raise marijuana for medicinal purposes on reservation lands.

Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday.

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