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POINTE-AU-CHIEN INDIAN TRIBE

Houma Courier Article Dated November 28, 2005
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Houma Courier, November 28, 2005

Article published Nov 28, 2005
Grant will help local tribe document its past

By Kimberly Solet
Senior Staff Writer


POINTE-AUX-CHENES -- The 683-member Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe won a $150,000 grant from the Administration for Native Americans to write a book about the group’s culture using recorded and transcribed oral histories.

The grant was awarded earlier this year but recently kicked into high gear when tribe Chairman Charles Verdin and council representative Melissa Billiot flew to Washington, D.C., to learn about protecting the group’s cultural resources.

Tribal members will learn more details about the oral-history project Saturday morning when experts from the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History at Louisiana State University arrive to discuss how to conduct, record and preserve historical interviews. The lesson will take place at 10 a.m. at Live Oak Baptist Church in Pointe-aux-Chenes.

"After that, we’ll start doing interviews with different members of the tribe," said Verdin, 47. "We’re interested in history, from the earliest we can get until now. It’s where we came from, what people did for a living, what education they got and different subjects."

The plan is to interview about 50 tribal members randomly selected from the rolls. The grant money will be used to collect and analyze the information, establish a cultural preservation office in the lower Pointe-aux-Chenes area where many tribal members live and compile a book about the tribe’s history and ancestry.

Tribal members hope the compilation of oral histories and historical information will be used for school projects and general research. The recordings will be available to the public and maintained by the tribe. One plan is for nearby Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary to develop lesson plans for preschool to fourth-grade based on the tribe’s culture.

"The book’s going to be about how it used to be," said Matthew Dardar, 20, a project assistant whose father, Basile Dardar, is a commercial fisherman who serves on the Tribal Council.

While his dad has trawled shrimp for decades, Matthew Dardar is a Nicholls State University senior and the first in his family to go to college. The social differences between the two generations reflect how opportunities for American Indians living in the Pointe-aux-Chenes area have changed, for better and worse, and what that could mean for the tribe’s future as the younger generation moves away.

"My dad is happy for me; he always pushed me to go to college," said Matthew Dardar. "I grew up on a boat, and I think shrimping is admirable. It’s a lot of work, and they’re being ripped off with the prices. But I didn’t want to wake up that early in the morning and stay up that late at night, year round. I wanted something different."

Verdin said the tribe membership is still concentrated in lower Pointe-aux-Chenes, as it has for more than a century. But some spreading out has begun as the hurricane-weary population spreads to the upper section of the community, Montegut, Bourg and Grand Bois.

"A lot of the younger generation are moving out because there’s nowhere else to build in lower Pointe-aux-Chenes," he said. "It’s better if we would stick together with our community, but you can’t blame them."

The Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe was formed in 1993 when a group of discouraged former United Houma Nation members decided to break away from the state’s largest tribe and honor their own distinct heritage, said Verdin.

Members of the tribe don’t consider themselves Houma but instead trace their ethnicities to the Chitimacha, Choctaw, Acolapissa and Atakapa.

But the distinction has been controversial from the start, as some Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribal members and a neighboring group, the Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees, call themselves something different than even their closest family members.

Verdin, for example, said he broke away from the United Houma Nation after talking to elders who said they were not of Houma descent. Not everyone in his family followed suit.

"We did some researching and realized we weren’t from the Houma," Verdin said. "But we still have some brothers and cousins who are still Houma. There are different reasons."

Some United Houma Nation members say the splinter tribes were formed to have a better chance at gaining federal recognition, which comes with a host of government benefits. The Houma tribe applied for recognition more than 20 years ago, but the application has been held up because of bureaucratic red tape as well as the splinter tribes' separate efforts to gain acknowledgement in 1995 and 1996.

Another reason for the breakaway American Indian groups is a Bureau of Indian Affairs report that said smaller tribes have a better chance at gaining federal acknowledgement than large tribes. Before the splinter groups formed, the United Houma Nation counted 17,000 members. Today about 15,000 are on the rolls, said Principal Chief Brenda Dardar Robichaux.

Kirby Verret, a United Houma Nation Tribal Council member, said no Indian tribe is from one single clan and he contests the splinter tribes’ claims that they are not of Houma descent.

Verret’s main supporting evidence is anthropologist and Indian expert John Swanton, who visited the Houma in 1907 and found the tribe had a mixture of Indian ethnicities but the dominant element was Houma. The Houma descend from three main families known by the French names "Couteaux," "Billiout" and "Verdine," Swanton found.

"It is plain that remnants of all sorts of tribes joined the Houma before and at this period, though it is certain that most of these were Muskhogean and that the Houma was always the dominating element," Swanton wrote.

For the Pointe-au-Chien Indians, the new grant is a chance to clarify the tribe’s history and perhaps set the record straight.

"Nothing like this was done for lower Pointe-aux-Chenes, ever, to my knowledge," said Verdin. "Hopefully this will help us out for federal recognition."

The oral-history project is expected to be completed by spring 2007 with help from other tribal members who have committed 1,200 volunteer hours. Other help is coming from the University of Mississippi Press, the Deep South Humanities Center at Tulane University and anthropologists Steve Austin and Angelito Palma, who will help document the tribe’s modern history.

Senior Staff Writer Kimberly Solet can be reached at 857-2209 or kimberly.solet@houmatodya.com.