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Snags found in Shabbona land transfer to tribe

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 12:00 a.m. CDT

By Diane Strand They said it was their land to begin with, and one U.S. Department of Interior official seemed to agree. They then shelled out $8 million for a farm, many times over its value as farmland. Now they can't even regrade the ground without a permit. A recent statement from the U.S. Department of the Interior says the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation's claim to 128 acres of land it recently bought for $8 million in the Shabbona area will have to be established in a complicated federal process before the tribe can establish sovereignty over it. Sovereignty implies they can do what they want with it. And what they want is a bingo gaming operation. Until the complicated procedure is completed, the tribe is bound by state and county jurisdiction, the new federal letter states. Despite the maelstrom, Tribal Chair Tracy Stanhoff remained ever-optimistic in her statement last week: &#8220While the formal discussions with members of the DeKalb County Board have been temporarily disrupted by the inevitable thrust and parry of local political campaigns, we are confident that the good residents of the county will welcome the tribe's unyielding dedication to addressing mutual areas of concern on a neighbor-to-neighbor basis.” Stanhoff outlined the contributions it intends to make to the Shabbona area including: jobs, improving roads, fire and police protection and other infrastructure needs; a share in the tribe's proceeds to mitigate the impact of the tribe's activities on the county's resources; and agreeing to waive claims to the state park, the forest preserve or any land the tribe has not purchased. &#8220So, we are surprised the county decided to abruptly eschew these benefits and disrupt our good faith negotiations without explanation or notice,” Stanhoff said. &#8220Nonetheless, we remain open to talking and working out how these benefits can get to the people.” DeKalb County State's Attorney Ron Matekaitis said last week, if the tribe goes through the federal process and gets a Class II gaming license, for bingo, the Potawatomi would not have to share revenue with state or local government. If they had a Class III gaming license for a casino, there would be revenue-sharing though not specifically called taxes, Matekaitis said. The Prairie Band does have sovereignty over reservation land in Kansas where they have a gambling operation, he added. DeKalb County Board Vice President Denny Sands argues that the result of the conflict will be lengthy litigation which will benefit attorneys and cost taxpayers a bundle. In a letter to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Michael Olsen, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs stated: &#8220Any claim to jurisdiction over Indian-owned land within a tribe's former territory, and conversely, any claim to immunity from such jurisdiction, will have to deal with the complex application of all the factors referenced by the treaties, courts and statutes in the context of the specific claim.” Olsen cited several court precedents including the Supreme Court case Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, in which the court held that the Oneida Nation could not unilaterally revive Indian sovereign control over lands it had purchased within the exterior boundaries of its reservation. In a news release two weeks ago, State Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Clare, and State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said they &#8220welcomed the new legal opinion stating the Potawatomi Nation must receive federal approval before opening a gaming facility in Shabbona.” Last week, DeKalb County Board President Ruth Anne Tobias said talks with the Indian tribe have ended. &#8220While the discussions were amicable, they failed to produce a proposal that could be forwarded to the DeKalb County Board for consideration. Both parties had hoped to find a way to avoid lengthy and potentially costly litigation to clarify the tribe's status on land located near Shabbona,” Tobias said. That's not how Stanhoff sees it. She said, &#8220The status of the tribes lands is beyond question and has not changed. Indeed, in its latest letter to Speaker Hastert, the Department of the Interior itself relies on the opinion of the former Solicitor of the Department, which finds that the reservation was established and was never disestablished, that the tribe has a credible claim for unextinguished title and that the United States continues to bear a true responsibility for the tribe for these particular lands.” The legislators said in their release, &#8220We felt it was crucial some of these questions be answered immediately because, at the Town Hall meeting in August, the Potawatomi Nation announced development plans to include a bingo facility in Shabbona. &#8220In order to move forward with its plans for Class II gaming, which includes bingo, the Tribe must undertake a series of steps involving the federal government.” Hastert said none of these steps had been taken by the tribe. Burzynski and Pritchard said, &#8220The Prairie Band has been pressuring the County of DeKalb to enter into an intergovernmental agreement which would lend validity to their claim. We believe this to be premature and we believe the county does not have the authority to enter into such an agreement without recognition on the federal level.” Hastert said, &#8220Residents of Shabbona should be reassured that any plans to bring Indian gaming to their community are a long way from becoming reality. The Department of Interior has a thorough process in place to review such claims, and the Tribe has yet to begin that process.”

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