Washington Leaders of an American Indian tribe from Kansas remain mum about plans for a large parcel of land they purchased last month near Chicago.
Three years ago, tribal officials spoke of building a casino on the 128-acre site. But on Tuesday, the tribal chair of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation said she was just happy to "reacquire" a small piece of her ancestral land.
"It's up in the air right now," tribal Chair Tracy Stanhoff said in a telephone interview after a morning news conference near the property. "All types of economic development are in play."
The tribe already operates a successful casino on reservation land north of Topeka in Mayetta, Kan.
Shabbona, Ill., officials speculated the recent land purchase for nearly $9 million, about 60 miles west of Chicago, might be the first step toward building another casino.
But Stanhoff declined to discuss development plans and criticized the intense focus on possible plans for a casino.
"Gaming isn't the end of all means to us," she said. "The land is our sovereignty; it's our history. It's why we are, how we are and where we come from."
The tribe claims the property lies within the boundaries of 1,280 acres given to Chief Shab-eh-nay and his band in the 1829 Treaty of Prairie du Chien. That band later merged into the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.
Following passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 - which required all Indian tribes to resettle on land west of the Mississippi River - the tribe was forced to move to a reservation in Kansas.
While the U.S. Department of Interior has said the tribe's claim to the land may be credible, Stanhoff said the tribe was not pressing that claim. Much of that land is now part of adjacent Shabbona Lake State Park.
"The tribe just decided that we wanted to buy back a piece of our history," Stanhoff said. "Right now, we're not trying to get it all back. We don't want to displace anybody."
If tribe leaders can prove the land rightfully belongs to the Prairie Band Potawatomi under a federal treaty, that could make it easier to win the right to build a casino there. Establishing an off-reservation casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires a lengthy federal and state review process and the approval of the state's congressional leaders.
The parcel lies within U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's congressional district. He has said that he opposes a casino in Shabbona.