2002 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
May 9, 2002 Thursday Five Star Lift Edition
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A12
LENGTH: 588 words
HEADLINE: THREE ILLINOIS CONGRESSMEN BACK BILL ON INDIANS'
TRIBES, OTHER LAWMAKERS OPPOSE MEASURE, WHICH WOULD PROTECT
BYLINE: Deirdre Shesgreen Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau
American Indian representatives and several House Democrats expressed concern
Wednesday about legislation that would protect Illinois landowners from legal
claims by tribes that say they were forcibly removed from the state
more than 100 years ago.
But three Illinois lawmakers, testifying at a congressional hearing, said the
bill was a balanced and fair approach to a dispute over land in central and
Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., said the bill is an effort "to reach an equilibrium
of justice between the landowners I represent and the claim of the Miami
tribe." He is the bill's main sponsor.
The measure would extinguish any claim by the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma
to 2.6 million acres, stretching from Champaign to Effingham, against the landowners
and instead allow the tribe to sue the federal government for any reparations.
The bill would also nix similar claims by two other tribes to land in
northern Illinois, including part of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's district.
The Miami tribe says it was forcibly removed and its land was given
away in violation of two treaties.
Reps. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and David Phelps, D-Eldorado, also testified
in support of the bill. The two lawmakers are vying to represent Illinois'
new 19th Congressional District, which will include three of the 15 counties
at issue in the dispute.
Shimkus said the bill was a fair solution for both sides.
"First, it protects the property owners in Illinois, who have acted in good
faith and done nothing wrong," he said. "Second, it provides the tribes recourse
to the federal courts."
At the same time, Shimkus dismissed the Miami tribe's claim to the land,
saying it was without merit and was really driven by the desire for a casino.
Phelps said "it's no secret that Native Americans have been treated wrongly
in the past." But he said the Illinois landowners should not face the
loss of their property.
No one from the Miami tribe testified at Wednesday's hearing. In the
past, the tribe has denied that its goal is a casino, saying that accusation
was manufactured by critics to tar the tribe's claim.
In 2000, the tribe filed a lawsuit to reclaim the land, naming 15 landowners
in Illinois as defendants. It withdrew that suit last year but said it would
still pursue the claim.
In written testimony, Floyd Leonard, chief of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma,
said the tribe strongly opposes the bill. He said the measure is not
a settlement at all but is rather a bold and unprecedented abrogation of treaties
made with the tribe and a confiscation of tribal land.
Other tribal representatives at Wednesday's hearing said the bill would override
attempts by the tribes to find a resolution to the dispute through negotiation.
The bill would "short-circuit both the legal and the settlement processes
and would perpetrate even more injustices against these tribes," said
Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American
Indians. "Congress cannot simply resolve Indian land claims in this one-sided
Several Democrats on the panel, the House Resources Committee, echoed her concern.
"This is a major change in policy," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. "It
sets a bad precedent ... that we're sort of willy-nilly extinguishing land claims" without
giving tribes an opportunity to negotiate resolutions.
The committee has not scheduled a vote on the measure. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.,
has introduced a similar bill in the Senate, but it hasn't moved forward.
Reporter Deirdre Shesgreen:; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: 202-298-6880
LOAD-DATE: May 9, 2002