Originally home to more than a handful of Native American tribes, today much of Indiana’s indigenous history is lost to many. The Porter County Commissioners and the Indiana Dunes Tourism Office are working to change that.
On September 27th of this year, the first section of the Indiana Dunes Indigenous Cultural Trail, which is located on the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center property, was dedicated and opened to the public.
“About 17 or 18 years ago, we worked with local film producer, Gary Foreman from Native Sun Productions, to create a film on the history of the Indiana Dunes and Save the Dunes. , Gary had work with both the History and Discovery Channels,”said Lorelei Weimer, President/ CEO of Indiana Dunes Tourism. “Foreman was very passionate about Native American stories and how Indiana has dropped the ball on this topic.”
Foreman’s comments sparked an understanding in Weimer and others. Wanting to ensure that this project is done properly, Indiana Dunes Tourism worked tirelessly to include multiple voices and perspectives.
Originally, the goal was to tell this important story at a different location, but after meeting with a member of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Tribe, who explain how all the native plants at the visitor center were used by their tribe for food, medicine, etc., that’s when Weimer knew the trail should be at the visitor center.
Spearheaded by Indiana Dunes Tourism Vice President Christine Livingston, the Indigenous Trail work has and will continue to grow.
In fact, based on that conversation and subsequent work with multiple partners, the interpretative trail includes interactive elements that highlight native plant life as well as the cultural aspects associated with each.
A critical partnership and collaboration has occurred with both the Miami and Potawatomi Indigenous communities. According to Weimer, working with tribal stakeholders has been a crucial aspect of the trail.
“It's been a great partnership,” said Weimer. “This trail is about authentically telling their story.”
In addition to focusing on native plant life, plans for the completed trail will include structures to further connect with local history.
“We think it probably will be multiple structures that will make the trail a more immersive, hands-on experience,” said Weimer.
The trail will start at the Indiana Dunes Visitor’s Center, but the majority of the trail will be located on the property that surrounds the visitor center, which is National Park property.
Visitors are encouraged to visit the first section of the Indigenous Cultural Trail today.
While Weimer and her team are very proud of what has been accomplished on the visitor center property site, they also are actively working on subsequent additions, which will be the largest section of the trail.
“We plan to construct the rest of the trail in a way that's going to blend with nature but still stay true to the story of the indigenous people from our area,” said Weimer. “This means being very mindful and moving forward in a way that's sustainable.”
Indiana Dunes Tourism has already begun planning the next steps with experts in the field; however, community members are encouraged to support the trail through donations on their site.
To learn more about the trail and to donate, please visit https://www.indianadunes.com/explore-the-dunes/experiences/indigenous-cultural-trail/
To learn more about the Indiana Dunes and Porter County visit www.indianadunes.com
To learn more about the Porter County Government and their support of Indiana Dunes Tourism, please visit https://www.porterco.org