During the early Twentieth Century, anthropologists made assumptions about
the ancestry of PACIT and other Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish Indians. These
assumptions were based primarily on published accounts that leave gaps in southern Louisiana Indian history from the French
colonial period to the American period. These theories have impacted the
Tribe's efforts to obtain Federal Recognition.
The Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribal Community is located in lower Pointe-au-Chien,
a traditional village of their ancestors, the Chitimacha. The Pointe-au-Chien Indians are also believed to be decendants
of the Acolapissa, Atakapas, and Biloxi Indians. The Tribe has approximately 680 members.
The Pointe-au-Chien inhabit the southern part of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes along Bayou Pointe-au-Chien. The Pointe-au-Chien are the caretakers of an area continuously inhabited by indigenous
tribes of South Louisiana, and descend from tribes historical to Louisiana and the Mississippi River Valley. This small French-speaking tribe continues to comprise a distinct community despite colonization, land
loss, lack of status as a federally recognized tribe, exploitation of the land and people, and denial of educational opportunities. The perseverance, ability to adapt, humility, and cultural knowledge of its people
have sustained the Tribe.
John Swanton's visit to Pointe-au-Chien in 1907, he interviewed several Pointe-au-Chien people regarding their first-hand
knowledge of their tribal ancestry. Felicite Billiot (ca. 1828-ca. 1916) described
her brother, Alexander Billiot, (1817-1900) as Chief of the Chitimachas. She
also informed Swanton that Benjamin Paul, a leader from the Chitimacha in Charenton, would come to Pointe-au-Chien to teach
the Chitimacha language. Felicite told Swanton that her grandfather was Courteau,
a Biloxi medal
chief, and her grandmother was an Acolopissa Indian born near Mobile. Bathelemy Billiot (b. 1834 – death unk.) told Swanton that his grandfather was
Shulu Shumon, a medal chief from Biloxi, and his grandmother
was an Attakapas Indian.
In 1911, Swanton
described the Indians of the Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes as a "remnant of the [Houma]
tribe, mixed with other Indian peoples," including the remains of the Bayougoula and the Acolopissa,
Biloxi, Chitimatcha, the remnants of the Washa and Chawasha, and "individuals from a number
of other Louisiana and Mississippi
assumed that Shulu Shumon and Courteau were the same man, but this is incorrect. Swanton's
theories have had the greatest impact on the mislabeling and misunderstanding of PACIT.
Swanton failed to reconcile his theories with the self-identification and oral histories provided by the Pointe-au-Chien
Ten years after
Swanton's visit, anthropologist David Bushnell, Jr. visited Pointe-au-Chien. He
described the village of Pointe-au-Chien
as including several Chitimacha families. Abel Billiot (ca. 1853 – death
unk.), who self-identified as a Chitimacha from Pointe-au-Chien, served as Bushnell's informant. Following his field work in Pointe-au-Chien, Bushnell wrote "The Chitimacha of Bayou La Fourche, Louisiana," describing the mannerisms and customs of the people of
Pointe-au-Chien. He noted that the Indians "claim to be of Chitimacha descent,
although they know some of their ancestors to have been Houma."
is no book that describes an accurate history of the PACIT and little attention has been paid to this tribe's history. Like many Indians in the Southeast, PACIT's ancestors were impacted by slavery, the
introduction of alcohol, the political jarring between European powers, white settlement, and disease. Indians moved throughout the Mississippi River
Valley and interacted with each other.
As a result, PACIT descends from multiple ancestors and tribes that came together in Terrebonne Parish.
Culture and Lifestyle
PACIT members inhabit land that was once very fertile, and some Pointe-au-Chien Indians lived miles further
south along the bayou than now possible. While the heart of PACIT remains along
lower Bayou Pointe-au-Chien, tribal members have had to move in order to adapt to salt water intrusion and the rapid land
loss in recent years. The once fertile land provided nourishment for the Indians.
Historically, Pointe-Au-Chien ancestors were farmers, fishermen,
and hunters. Tribal leader Alexander Billiot and his brother had a lucrative sugarcane farm during the 1850s.
The sugarcane operations were so successful that the brothers were able to sell sugar in New
Orleans. The Pointe-au-Chien also raised corn, beans, potatoes, field peas, cucumbers, and watermelons.
Unfortunately, the ability to farm today is impaired because of salt-water intrusion., but individuals
continue to maintain personal gardens. Pointe-Au-Chien
Indians continue to live off of the land and water by hunting alligators, fishing, and catching shrimp, crabs and oysters.
addition to agriculture, the Pointe-au-Chien had cattle, hunted and trapped various animals, and fished oysters, shrimp, and
crabs. Few Pointe-au-Chien continue to raise cattle due to the loss of land and
salt water intrusion, but commercial fishing is a primary occupation for many PACIT men, and some
women. Trapping has become unprofitable, though some tribal members still hunt
the first half of the 1900s, the Pointe-au-Chien lived in palmetto houses and were segregated from the nonIndian community. Most PACIT members over the age of sixty were born at home with the assistance of
a mid-wife. Treateurs (treaters or healers) treated sicknesses through the use
of traditional plants or prayers.
Because of policies in place by the State
of Louisiana and United States government, Indians from Pointe-Au-Chien were prohibited from attending high school until the
late 1960's and early 1970's. These policies have had a direct impact on the ability of tribal members and the Tribe
to advance in areas of education, economics, and healthcare. The Tribe is seeking to reverse these past policies by
obtaining state and federal recognition to provide services to assist
Tribal members continue to inhabit the land, which is governed
by familial kinship systems. The PACIT community is not protected by a levee
and land loss has increased dramatically in recent years. The accelerated land
loss can be attributed to the increased salinization of the water, the reduction of the barrier islands, and the lack of fresh
water replenishing the soil. These factors leave Pointe-au-Chien vulnerable to
Multiple hurricanes have caused severe damage to homes
in the past fifteen years. The most notable are Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Hurricane Lili in 2002, and back-to-back storms in 2005 and 2008. In 2005, the PACIT community suffered wind damage from Hurricane Katrina and an eight-foot storm surge
caused by from Hurricane Rita. In 2008, the eye of Hurricane Gustav passed to
the west of Pointe-au-Chien causing extreme wind and water damage to homes, and flood waters from Hurricane Ike caused another
eight-foot storm surge in some parts of the Community. Tribal members are adapting
to the changing nature of their land by raising their homes, some as high as thirteen feet.
Kinship relations have traditionally governed the Pointe-Au-Chien
Indian Community. In 1993, the Tribe adopted a Constitution and filed its Articles of Incorporation with the Louisiana
Secretary of State.
In 1996, the Tribe submitted a petition for federal acknowledgment
with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe is currently preparing documentation to support its petition. The
cost of preparing a petition is expensive and has cost tribes anywhere from $500,000 to $9,000,000 to prepare a petition.
Because of the petition, the Tribe formally incorporated as a 501(c)(3) to become eligible for donations, grants, and other
assistance in documenting its history, culture, and traditions and in preparing other petition criteria.
With the adoption of a Constitution, the Tribe formalized its
governing body through elections by the tribal membership. The Tribe is governed by an Executive Body, the Tribal Council
and Council of Elders.
Written by Patty Ferguson, adapted from submission to KNOWLA in 2009
on the Pointe-au-Chien Indians.
Bushnell, David, "The Chitimacha of Bayou Lafourche, Louisiana," Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 7 (1917)
News Articles on History:
Did you know that the Pointe Au Chien Indian people along with other Bayou Indian tribes heavily influenced the development
of Cajun culture of Louisiana? ...Food for Thought.