Clinton memo cited 'credible' land claim
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MONDAY, MAY 13, 2002

The following are excerpts from a January 18, 2001, memo from then-Department of Interior Solicitor John D. Leshy to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Illinois Governor George Ryan (R).

Dear Speaker Hastert and Governor Ryan:

In 1998, the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians of Kansas requested the Department of the Interior to review the Band's claim, as the successor in interest to Chief Shab-eh-nay and his Band, asserting Indian title to 1,280 acres of land in DeKalb County, Illinois. Title to this land was recognized in a reservation set aside for Shab-eh-nay and his Band by the 1829 Treaty of Prairie du Chien. I am writing to advise you that, after considerable review of the relevant facts, we have determined that the Prairie Band has a credible claim for an unextinguished Indian title to this land.

. . .

The origin of this title claim lies in the reservation set aside in Article III of the Treaty of Prairie du Chien signed July 29, 1829 by representatives of the United States and the United Nations of Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians, and subsequently ratified by the U.S. Senate. Such reservations of Indian land constitute recognition of Indian title. The Indian Nonintercourse Act makes void any conveyance of Indian title without the consent of Congress. Our research has not revealed any subsequent treaty or Act of Congress which authorized the conveyance of these lands.

. . .

The legal effect was to maintain the 1,280 acres for Shab-eh-nay and his Band under the protection of the United States. These lands were, however, sold in 1849 at a public auction by the U.S. General Land Office to non-Indian settlers. Because this sale was not approved or authorized by Congress, there is a credible argument that it violated the Non-Intercourse Act.

Our research has also led us to the conclusion that the Prairie Band is the lawful successor in interest to Chief Shab-eh-nay and his Band. . . As a result, we believe the U.S. continues to bear a trust responsibility to the Prairie Band for these lands.

. . .

We have long encouraged such settlement of credible claims, and there would appear to be a genuine possibility here of amicable resolution.

. . .

John D. Leshy

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Clinton memo cited 'credible' land claim (5/13)