The Ambassador of France Visits Ouiatenon
By J. Colby Barlett, Director of the Ouiatenon Preserve: A Roy Whistler Foundation Project
A TCHA cornerstone and community landmark received international attention last month when on Friday May 21st, His Excellency Philippe Etienne, Ambassador of France to the United States traveled to Tippecanoe County to tour the Ouiatenon Preserve – National Historic Landmark, a Roy Whistler Foundation Project.
Ambassador Etienne, accompanied by Consul General Guillaume Lacroix and Honorary Consul Martin Baier visited Indiana during a two day official diplomatic visit that included meetings with Governor Holcomb, Indiana corporate leaders and a visit with French drivers at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway preparing for the Indianapolis 500.
Approximately ten days prior, I received a call from Consul General Lacroix informing me of the Ambassador’s upcoming visit and to inquire if a tour of the Preserve could be arranged. Earlier this year, the Ambassador had posted a congratulatory message on social media when the Preserve was awarded National Historic Landmark status and he had discussed the site and its history with Governor Holcomb, during a visit in February at the Ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C.
Ambassador Etienne and his entourage was received on Friday afternoon at the Fort Ouiatenon Park. Upon his arrival, he was escorted by Captain Malcolm Duncan leading the Tippecanoe Ancient Fife & Drum Corp and Captain Thomas Wojcinski leading the Les Garnison du Pays den Haut, French Marine unit. While he reviewed the assembled troops, I was explaining the history of the establishment of Ouiatenon, by a small detachment of Marines in 1717. The Ambassador, demonstrating his quick wit and humor, quipped “And look after all of these years, what fine condition they are still in!”
The troops escorted the Ambassador to the Blockhouse where he viewed a display of Ouiatenon artifacts prepared by TCHA Curator, Kelly Lippie. During this, I presented him with a replica of a pewter French spoon that had been recovered from the site and following a brief meeting with local officials, including Lafayette Mayor Roswarski and Tippecanoe County Commissioners Murtaugh and Brown, the Ambassador delivered a moving speech to the assembled guests and press pool. Among his comments, the Ambassador highlighted the shared history and unique bond that America and France share, as each others oldest and closest allies. He continued by saying in part,
“Here, the Ouiatenon Preserve was created and given National Historic Landmark status by the Federal Government, with the support of the French Consulate in Chicago. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate those who spearheaded this effort, as it not only reconnects your community with our common history, but it also highlights the connections between history, ecology and biodiversity. This is an important project for us and for future generations.”
“I also see the work that you do to become more familiar with your French history as a symbol of our special relationship. By taking part in archeology, research, and education programs, you will learn more about your history, but you will also teach us French more about our own history.” (Click Here for the full speech)
Following his remarks, the Ambassador was welcomed by representatives of the General de Lafayette Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Indiana Society of the Son’s of the American Revolution.
In a highlight of the day, we were fortunate that representatives of the Miami (Myaamia) Nation of Oklahoma including Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Diane Hunter and Tribal Archaeologist, Rebecca Hawkins, were able to make the journey to be with us and conducted a traditional welcoming by gifting and wrapping Ambassador Etienne in a beautiful Pendleton blanket and presenting him with a Myaamia language dictionary. Consul General Lacroix was presented with a piece from a Myaamia artist and a dictionary as well.
Following these welcomes, the Ambassador was introduced and visited with representatives from TCHA including President Jeff Schwab, Operations Manager Leslie Conwell, Del Bartlett and Kory Cooper, the Roy Whistler Foundation including President Michael Reckowsky, The Archaeological Conservancy Midwestern Director, Phil Millhouse, Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historic Preservation Director, Beth McCord and State Archaeologist, Amy Johnson, Visit Lafayette – West Lafayette President, Jo Wade, as well as representatives from the Tippecanoe County Soil & Water Conservation District and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
While visiting with me and other archaeologists (Kory Cooper, Phil Millhouse, Beth McCord and Amy Johnson) present, the Ambassador, citing his childhood interest and desire to pursue a career in archaeology, joked “You all succeeded, where I failed !”.
We then departed to the Ouiatenon Preserve Overlook where the Ambassador enjoyed the vista, conducted press interviews and we discussed our plans for the development of an interpretive trail. Additionally, Captain Thomas Wojcinski and members of Les Garnison du Pays den Haut performed a musket firing demonstration for the Ambassador and presented gifts to the Ambassador and Consul General.
We then boarded Utility Terrain Vehicles for a tour of the Preserve and to visit the site of Fort Ouiatenon. During this we discussed the history and archaeology of the site, the history of the creation of the Preserve and its ongoing environmental restoration, as well as plans for future research and development of public interpretation. It was readily evident, that both the Ambassador and Consul General have a deep and genuine interest and appreciation for the Native American, French, and early American history of our region.
Prior to returning to Indianapolis for other meetings, the Ambassador’s visit concluded with a short retreat on the patio at Teays River Brewery hosted by co-owner and TCHA Board Member, Jeff Burnworth. There, the various Preserve stakeholders had an opportunity to visit more with the Ambassador and Consul General and enjoyed some fine beer and food. The Ambassador again thanked all involved for our efforts to preserve and celebrate the French heritage of our region and said he had genuinely enjoyed his visit very much and hoped he would have an opportunity to return again, perhaps to attend the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon or when an archaeology project is being conducted at the Preserve.
During Ambassador Etienne’s visit he discussed with Governor Holcomb and announced to the media a new initiative being led by the French Heritage Society’s Chicago Chapter and supported by him and the Consul General for the creation of a French Heritage Corridor in the Midwest, that will include Ouiatenon and the Feast. The goal of this project is to develop synergy, encourage tourism and raise the collective awareness of the various French historic sites, events, and the French heritage that exists in the region between the more commonly known areas of French Canada and Louisiana. An article detailing this exciting development will be forthcoming in a future newsletter!
I would like to take this opportunity to extend great thanks to everyone, including the Tippecanoe County Parks Department and the TCHA staff and board members, who assisted in making the Ambassador’s visit a wonderful and memorable success! A special thank you to Brook Sauter for photographing the event and to Sheriff Goldsmith and Chief Flannelly and the men and women of the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department and the Lafayette Police Department for their assistance in providing protective details and escorts in support of this historic visit!
Photographs Courtesy of Brook Sauter.