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Grand Kankakee Marsh


The Grand Kankakee Marsh is and was an important place for the Potawatomi people who live in around the Calumet region of Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. This was once one of the largest continuous wetlands in North America in the Kankakee River Watershed, covering 1,500 square miles or approximately 1 million acres. Its western extent was near the present-day city of Momence, Illinois and it goes in a northeastern arc extending to the present-day city of South Bend, Indiana (Meyer, 1935).

Its cultural importance to the Potawatomi people lies in the fact that most of the cultural material goods, including most of the cultural foods come from wetlands, bogs, and riparian areas. The most prominent of these would be Menomen or wild rice (Zizania spp.), but also Abakwesh or cattail (Typha latifolia) and many species of fish, as well as small and large game.

During the 1900’s under the guise of land reclamation the marshes were reduced and now only cover 3% of their former range (Imlay and Carte, 2012). This was accomplished by extensive ditch-digging in which the river bottoms were dredged, and meanders were straightened. For example, the Kankakee rivers lost ⅓ of its length from straightening. This severely degraded the function and ecology of the marshes and led to the disappearance of many species of cultural importance to the Potawatomi people of the region.

Citations

S.J. Imlay and E.D. Carter, Drainage on the Grand Prairie: the birth of a hydraulic society on the Midwestern frontier, Journal of Historical Geography 38 (2012) 109–122.

Prince, Wetlands of the American Midwest (note 2), 126e127; J.O. Cunningham, History of Champaign County, Chicago, (1905), 648

A. Meyer, The Kankakee “Marsh” of northern Indiana and Illinois, Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters 21 (1935).

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