French Heritage Corridor Conference held in Prairie du Chien

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Delegates from the Canada, France, and the United States gathered in Prairie du Chien on June 15-17 for the 3rd annual French Heritage Corridor Conference, an Initiative of French Heritage Society’s Chicago-Midwest Chapter. (Contributed photo)

By Melissa R. Collum

Delegates, organization, and government representatives were on hand for the French Heritage Corridor conference June  15 -17 at the Barn and off site locations in Prairie du Chien. The French Heritage Corridor (FHC) initiative is comprised of seven states in the Midwest (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin). This network, joined by waterways connecting with the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, transcends borders to recreate in the Midwest what was once la Nouvelle France.
While French history and heritage of eastern Canada and of Louisiana is typically well known and understood by the general public, the region comprising the French Heritage Corridor which lies between them is not as universally appreciated. According to their website, the French Heritage Corridor (FHC) is an initiative of French Heritage Society Chicago-Midwest chapter dedicated to developing synergy and raising the collective awareness about the rich French history and heritage that has, since the 17th century, melded with the vibrant multicultural landscape in what is today the Midwestern United States.
While at the conference participants were given presentations focusing on les Pays d’en Haut: Building an Equitable and Sustainable Future. In 17th and 18th centuries, pays d’en haut usually refers to the Great Lakes area.
The Consul General  of France, Yannick Tangand, who addressed the conference noted that “the French Consulate in Chicago and the French Embassy in Washington D.C. are working very hard to help this initiative thrive and is working to promote French heritage across the Midwest.” Although Tangand was unable to attend the 350th events, he was able to tour the historic sites in Prairie du Chien.
“I want people to know that this is an American initiative, which is lead by the French Heritage Society” continued Tangand. “French culture here is a blend of different cultures. A lot of French speaking people have contributed to the identity of this region. It is important for us to be a part of this initiative because we see the heritage as a ground on which we can build new bridges for the future.
According to Lisa Kahn, the Director of the FHC initiative and the Co-Chair, French Heritage Society Chicago-Midwest Chapter, the tours given by local historian and FHC Ambassador for Wisconsin, Mary Elise Antione, not only provided the opportunity to visit “the different wonderful structures and material culture, but also give us a better understanding of the things to celebrate and the challenges presented.” In her presentation ‘Preserving the Remnant of French Prairie du Chien - the next generation of stewardship’ Antoine brought up “a great many things to consider when preserving local historical sites; not just the physical challenges, such as flooding. She brought up the questions of ‘What is going to happen in the next generation?” notes Kahn. “Have we done a good enough job to grow and develop the next generation of preservationists and people who understand what all this is about and have a appreciation of it. Not just for the protection but for using it. How do we use the information in a way that helps us to build bridges and not divides? The possibilities are vast in how it could be applied in out daily lives.”
It is the hope of the FHS to reinvigorate the understanding and appreciation of the French heritage that lives among us in the seven state region. “It is a shared past, that we want to build a relationship for the future,” notes Tangand. “I see two main lines of action for this initiative. First education. As you might know, France is very eager to promote the teaching and learning of the French language, as a way of promoting multilingualism in the Midwest. Another line of action is tourism. There are economic opportunities based on this heritage, to make places like Prairie du Chien  a destination from the region.”
One of the ways this initiative is moving forward is with the unveiling of the history modules on the FHS website. The website not only hosts a extensive list of events taking place across the seven states but it has modules linking to comprehensive histories related to French Heritage such as the Fur Trade, Old French Maps, Exploration, early French Heritage and all are linked to teaching materials and an interactive map.  The FHC website is
According to Jeanne Lamy-Belzil, the Public and Government Affairs Officer of the Quebec office in Chicago, “The FHS are doing a great job and interesting one to raise the awareness here but also in Quebec. Because most of the talk about the French heritage in the United States but it about the East Coast and Louisiana but we don’t talk about it in the Midwest. For instance, Louis Jolliet is a very well know person in Quebec, but we don’t know that he went to the Midwest. We know a part of the history, so it is import to know all of it.”
“Often times there is a disconnect when we talk about French heritage,” notes Kahn. “So often the trajectory was not directly from France to the United States, it went through Quebec and Canada. When we talk about the language and culture it was funneled through Canada. So many of the people who settled here, never set a foot in France, they were French- Canadian.”
Additional  main speakers at the conference were Albert LeBeau, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and serves as the Cultural Resources Program Manager at Effigy Mounds. Le Breau’s presentation addressed the “pre-Contact and Post-Conflict: A native Americans Perspective. Ryan Howell, the Garrison Archaeologist at Fort McCoy, presented on the “ French Colonial Archeological Sites in Wisconsin: Artifact of the French Heritage Corridor. Andrew Nussbaum from the Wisc. Department of Tourism presented on the implications of the FHS and tourism.
Many of the conference delegates remained in Prairie du Chein over the weekend to participate in the events being held for the 350th Expedition Anniversary of Marquette and Jolliet.

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