LOUISIANA’S COASTAL TRIBES APPEAL FOR HELP Unique
Cultures On Edge of Extinction From Storms, Neglect
Southern Louisiana – Four of Louisiana’s
coastal Native American tribes issued an urgent appeal for support in the aftermath of Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita.
Despite the buzz of recovery activity in New Orleans and on other parts of the Gulf coast, tribal leaders say they have been
forgotten and their people continue to suffer:
We understand the focus of the nation has been on the New Orleans
area in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But the smaller communities, especially the American Indian communities,
are still in dire need. We are grateful for all the donations that have been received, but the amount is only enough to work
on a few houses in each community. Much more money is needed for our recovery efforts. If we do not get additional support,
our cultures will be lost.
The four tribes who issued the appeal are the Bayou Lafourche, Grand Caillou/Dulac and Isle de Jean Charles Bands of the Biloxi-Chitimacha
(BCCM) as well as the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe (PACIT). Located in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, their small communities,
situated on high ridges that extend like fingers into Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, are reeling from years of socio-economic
neglect, coastal land loss, and an absence of storm relief assistance.
“We are appealing to the foundations
and large donors to support our recovery efforts,” said Randy Verdun, Chief of the Bayou Lafourche Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha.
“It’s a call to action, a call that we hope is heard. Help us preserve our distinct cultures and traditions. Without
help, they will surely be lost.”
On the forefront of Louisiana’s much publicized land loss, tribal communities
that were historically dry are now flooding even during small storms. Land that once held gardens and pastures has become
salt marsh or open water. Because of continued flooding and lack of resources to repair and raise homes, tribal members are
leaving the traditional communities causing dispersion of culture and tribal cohesion.
“There is no money and
no materials. We don’t want to loose all our people,” said Albert Naquin, Chief of Isle de Jean Charles Band of
the Biloxi-Chitimacha. Once thriving, Isle de Jean Charles, or The Island, has become marshland marked by skeletons of dead
oaks and abandoned houses.
Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe Co-Chair Donald Dardar added, “All of our homes have
to be raised. We need money to elevate these homes.”
Raising homes onto stilts would prevent flood damage but
costs begin at around $25,000 per home. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, up to 80% of Native Americans in the area live
below the poverty line, and few move on to college. Income supported by traditional fishing is also threatened by cheap imported
seafood and rising fuel costs. Few have the funds to raise homes.
“Help! Help! Help!” Exclaimed Marlene
Foret of the Grand Caillou Dulac Band of the Biloxi Chitimacha, the largest of the four tribes. “We need all the things
that make homes livable- building supplies, bedding, appliances, and furniture.”
Terrebonne Parish estimates
that 10,000 homes were flooded by Hurricane Rita. Most of these were in the lower bayou where the indian communities are located.
Additional homes in Terrebonne and Lafourche received wind damage from Katrina. While some storm relief has come in, only
a handful of relief organizations are working with the tribes.
Four Directions Relief Project is one such organization.
Created in early October to support the needs of the bayou tribes, Four Directions has helped to facilitate food and material
donations as well as volunteer workers for trash pick-up and home repair.
“With everyone focused on the city
of New Orleans, we don’t get numbers of volunteers or large financial donations,” said Four Directions Coordinator
Naomi Archer. “The people who live here are proud and determined, but their determination can only go so far when there
aren’t the resources or skilled volunteers to rebuild.”
Federal storm relief has also been minimal. Red
Cross distribution ended months ago, insurance checks are slow, and FEMA trailers are only beginning to trickle in to these
communities. For many coastal indians, basic housing is being denied by FEMA red tape or bureaucratic technicalities.
thing is, if FEMA can’t put a trailer [at a house] because the sewage system isn’t just right, then why can’t
they make it right for these people?” Chief Albert said angrily.
While the relief effort moves at a snail’s
pace for the tribes, community members are forced to live in moldy homes with leaky roofs. Some homes are filled with extended
family members or other families. Spare money just isn’t there for the extensive home repairs or to buy new furniture
and appliances. People are talking about moving away to avoid the same thing all over again.
PACIT Chairman Charles
Verdin added, "Knowing we have to go through it again - it's tough."