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Pokagon Tribe Uses WRP to Restore Cultural Land Use

Prior to European settlement, the Potawatomi Nation traditional territory extended from the southern shores of Lake Erie in Ohio west to the Mississippi River in Illinois, halfway into Michigan's lower Peninsula to the north and south to the Wabash River.  These territories were lost during the removal period and treaty-making with the U.S. government in the late 1700s and into the 1800s.  While most of the Potawatomi were removed west of the Mississippi River, chief Leopold Pokagon negotiated with the U.S. to allow the Pokagon Band and its allied villages to remain with the Great Lakes region.  Beginning in 1996, the Band began to restore its land base for the benefit of the tribal government and its citizens.  Included in its purchases were 1,450 acres of land along the current Kankakee River, and land which was within the former Kankakee River marshland area near North Liberty, IN.  Historically, the former marsh provided hunting, gathering, and fishing areas for our ancestors.  The Band is utilizing the USDA-NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program to help re-connect to its ancestral cultural uses and activities.

Pokagon WRP site in IndianaThrough the WRP program, NRCS staff recreated marsh areas and established vegetation patterns over 1,147 acres of the Band's property to emulate the historic marsh and associated habitats.  Approximately 683 acres of warm season grasses and forbs were planted by Pokagon Band Environmental Department and Land Maintenance Department staff to establish mesic prairie conditions.  In addition, Wild Rice was also established in this area.  Wild Rice holds a cultural significance to the Pokagon Band as it will be utilized as a food source in tribal ceremonies. 

The experiences gained from the WRP activities offer conservation opportunities for the Pokagon Band.  The planting and establishment of native vegetated prairies in transferable to the installation of conservation practices, such as filter strips, vegetates swales, and native vegetated prairies to protect water quality.  These conservation practices can be integrated into agricultural practices and development project to manage storm water in ways that protect water quality.

Over the long term, the restoration will provide a Tribal land preserve.  The preserve is envisioned to offer recreational, cultural, and educational opportunities which can enhance the quality of life for Tribal citizens.

The WRP project provides benefits to the Band's local and regional neighbors by helping reduce the severity of flooding by retaining water on the Band's property.  The wildlife habitat created by the project provides a corridor link to surrounding State Conservation Areas, State Parks, and other private landowner efforts.

Written by Kris Vance, NRCS, Indiana