Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Becomes Illinois’ Only Recognized Tribe

The federal givernment has recognized the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation as Illinois’ first and only sovereign tribal nation.

Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Prairie Band Resort and Casino, Illinois, Chicago
Will we see a Prairie Band Resort and Casino in Illinois like the one in Kansas? The tribe has no immediate plans but is considering its options. (Image: Prairie Band)

On Friday, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it had placed 130 acres of land 70 miles west of Chicago into trust for the tribe. This is the process that converts land into a sovereign tribal reservation, partially removing it from the jurisdiction of the state, a prerequisite for Indian gaming.

The Prairie Band is headquartered near Mayetta, Kansas, where it operates the Prairie Band Resort and Casino but has ancestral ties to the land in Illinois.

The tribe believes that the land was illegally auctioned off 175 years ago, while Chief Shab-eh-nay was visiting relatives in Kansas.

Righting Wrongs

“Our federal government unlawfully sold the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s land in Illinois,” said Prairie Band Chairman Joseph Rupnick, the fourth-generation great grandson of Chief Shab-eh-nay, in a statement. “The decision to put portions of the Shab-eh-nay Reservation into Trust is an important step to returning the land that is rightfully theirs.”

We have been asking for this recognition and for what is rightfully ours for nearly 200 years, and we are grateful to the U.S. Department of Interior for this significant step in the pursuit of justice for our people and ancestors,” Rupnick added.

The tribe did not say how it intended to use the land, other than it would “carefully evaluate” all possibilities. Back in 2016, shortly after the Prairie Band purchased the land, the tribe proposed a class II gaming facility, but it’s unclear if those plans will be revived.

Room for Another Casino?

A casino so close to the Chicago metropolitan area might be an attractive option. But Illinois’ gaming landscape has been transformed since 2016. In 2019, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed a gambling expansion package that would establish one big casino in Chicago and five smaller regional casinos in the southern suburbs. Another casino in the area could lead to saturation.

The tribe could operate class II gaming, such as electronic bingo and poker, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act without the permission of the state. A class III casino, with Las Vegas-style slots and table games, would require compact negotiations with the state.

A bill filed in the Illinois House of Representatives in February would give more land to the Prairie Band. But it contains a clause that would require the tribe to maintain the land as a public conservation area – which might rule out a future casino — or face a hefty fine from the federal government.

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