A New Slogan for Shabbona
Fish 'n Chips
Here's that story again. The injuns are coming. There's casino chips in them there hills around Shabbona Lake State Park. Every couple of years, like a lunar eclipse, the Native American claim for land deeded and treatied to the Potawatomi chief Shabbona makes the local headlines and stirs the coffee discussions in area restaurants.
"Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin," cries U.S. Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, who is joined by a chorus of politicians eager for a popular battle cry. There will be no casino in Shabbona, Illinois, they say.
Nothing so degrading as a casino should interrupt the fine fishing at the lake, they say. Those crazy Indians should take their sinful gambling to some federal land outside of Illinois, they say.
Now, there's a good chance that Shabbona, himself, would be opposed to gambling. Due to his relationship with Tecumseh, before and during the War of 1812 era, it's quite possible that Shabbona would have been influenced by the spiritual teachings of Tecumseh's prophet brother, Tenskwata, who preached against vices, especially those of the whites. But it seems that today's Potawatomi leaders are a lot like our leaders down in Springfield. They see gambling as a revenue source for the health, education and welfare of their people.
It's kind of ironic that among Shabbona's last words upon realizing that his land had been taken from him were, "We are all alike. All alike!"
If you pick up a copy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources guide to state parks, you'll learn that Shabbona Lake State Park was 'named after an Indian chief who briefly lived there.'
There's a little more to the story than that. Shabni saw to it that his village welcomed white settlers to the area. He served as a guide for those in need of such services. He worked to prevent the killing of some soldiers and their families during the Fort Dearborn Massacre. He not only circumvented Black Hawk's attempt to rally an allegiance during the Sac war of 1832 but he and a son rode ponies to death warning many white settlers of impending danger when the rumors of war began.
For his actions, Shabni, or Shabbona, was given the title of "Friend of the Whites." He was also 'given' (again) his land that was treatied to the Potawatomi in the 1829 Prairie Du Chein Treaty. He was even invited, as a guest of honor, by Abraham Lincoln to the Lincoln-Douglas debate held in Ottawa.
But having the title of "Friend of the Whites" wasn't much good for Shabbona among Native Americans not in his band. His people were forced, at gunpoint, to leave their homes for Beardstown, Illinois in 1837 to join other Potawatomi in the Trail of Death march to Iowa where they eventually ended up on a reservation near Mayetta, Kansas.
Shabbona, himself, survived numerous assassination attempts by those loyal to Black Hawk. A son was not so fortunate. He was murdered in revenge of Shabbona's title, "Friend of the Whites."
Because he made several trips from his home in Illinois to his people in Iowa and Kansas -- to try and help ease their suffering -- Shabbona's land was declared 'abandoned' and taken from him. He found that out after arriving home, with his wife and children, only to be chastised and chased away by settlers who had moved into his land.
Some good people of Morris remembered why he was called, "Friend of the Whites," and provided him with a cabin to live out his final days.
The emotional chord of the Potawatomi claim to their land in Shabbona will certainly be the casino. The issue, however, is whether they have a legal entitlement to the land.
It's my opinion that unless there was an act of the U.S. Congress that negated the Treaty of 1829 (and there wasn't) then the Potawatomi have a legal and rightful claim to the land. That opinion is shared by many legal experts who also believe that the State of Illinois should negotiate in good faith with the Potawatomi to settle the issue before the Interior Department has to make a ruling.
Perhaps, in good faith, the Potawatomi would agree to share gambling revenues with all DeKalb County schools, and since I'm being idealistic, maybe that shared revenue could be used for property tax relief.
There are many who live in and near Shabbona who don't think the casino would be a bad deal. Lake Shabbona is either a sleeping giant of economic development or its a white elephant. Sure lots of people fish at the lake but there has been little or no economic development in Shabbona since the state park opened. I lived in Shabbona before the park opened, during Florence Cook's era of principal of Shabbona High School. The downtown area was certainly more vibrant back then, than it is now.
But there I go, joining the chorus of people discussing a side issue to the real questions at hand:
Did the United States government give its word to Shabbona and his people regarding the land now in dispute? Was the United States government true to its word? Is keeping your word the right thing to do? Isn't never the only time its never too late to do the right thing?
I believe DeKalb County's leaders should join those in Springfield to negotiate in good faith with the Potawatomi as the laws require. Those directly impacted should be justly compensated. Negotiate in good faith and I believe the Potawatomi will do likewise and be fair with DeKalb County residents with whatever they decide to do with their land.
How will this impact people who live on the land that is disputed? Will they be compensated? Forced to move? We need more information here. Thanks.
Editor's Note: I believe most of the land involved is contained on the state park and at Chief Shabbona Forest Preserve. Other land in the area in dispute has options-to-purchase from the Potawatomi so it would appear that the sellers are willing. I sent your request for more information to the Potawatomi administration at Mayetta Kansas. Perhaps they will offer their perspective.