Louisiana’s Indigenous communities are watching the coast disappear

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TeaHeresa Dardar started making crickets in 1974 along the lakes of Louisiana and with her husband, Donald Dardar. Now, the once recognizable waterways of south Louisiana — previously surrounded by marshy grass and fragile land that provided a protective barrier for the indigenous communities living between them — look more like open water, she says. .

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“The lakes were not identified. All my traces had disappeared,” she says from the porch of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe Community Center, a raised steel cabin on the edge of the bayou in Pointe-aux-Chances. “I won’t be able to drive without telling him where I want to go. It’s very open.”

More-severe storms driven by the climate crisis have intensified the loss of coastal land in Louisiana, accompanied by an increase in the salinity of waterways, erosion of barrier islands, and a lack of freshwater to replenish soils on land that forms part of Louisiana. The disappearance protects remote indigenous communities along the coast and interior. Oil and gas infrastructure, including shipping lanes carved into the wetlands, cut off what’s left.


Hurricane Ida hit the coast on August 29 with gusts above 200 mph, devastating many of those aboriginal communities, including Point-au-Chien and Lafourche Parish in Terrebonne.

“If the storm keeps getting stronger than Ida – she nearly wiped us out this time – but another storm like hers, we’re not going to do anything until our members can really make it stronger,” Ms. Dardar says. “Our house probably won’t be strong enough for anything stronger than that.”

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Along a stretch of road near the community centre, only 12 houses are habitable, says Ms. Dardar.

The United Houma Nation, the largest state-recognized tribe with 19,000 Aboriginal citizens, estimates that three-quarters of the homes of its members have been damaged.

Shirell Parfet-Dardar, chief of the Grand Calo/Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, states that none of the more than 1,000-member tribes were home to the Ida.

Theresa Dardar, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe, stands outside the tribal community center after Hurricane Ida.

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Theresa Dardar, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe, stands outside the tribal community center after Hurricane Ida.

The destruction of Ida follows decades of institutional neglect and a series of interlocking crises facing Louisiana’s tribal members—the colonization of indigenous lands, a growing climate emergency, and the lack of federal recognition of many tribes, which they say have been denied access to resources important to them. staying alive.

There are 11 state-recognized tribes in Louisiana. Four tribes – the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, the Kaushatta Tribe of Louisiana, the Jena Band of Choctaw and the Tunica-Biloxi tribe of Louisiana – have received recognition from the federal government.

Tribal members say their lack of federal recognition has cut them off from a wide range of aid and funding. This has made it even more difficult to get immediate relief, now more than a month after the Ida landslide and devastation, which tribal elders say is the worst in their lives.

A house in Pointe-aux-Chennes, Louisiana is one of dozens of homes destroyed by Hurricane Ida.

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A house in Pointe-aux-Chennes, Louisiana is one of dozens of homes destroyed by Hurricane Ida.

The French-speaking Pointe-au-Chien tribe, which has about 800 members, claims ancestry from the Chitimacha and other tribes along the Mississippi River valley. Tribal histories in South Louisiana are marked by French and American colonization, modernization, separate education, and the ongoing fight for their sovereignty. The effects of sea level rise and the climate crisis have also dramatically changed the traditional ways of living of the tribes.

Many Pointe-au-Chien members were still recovering from Hurricane Zeta, which peeled off the roofs of several homes when it hit Ida in October 2020.

Ms. Dardar returned to Pointe-aux-Chennes three days after the storm. Since then, she has anchored the community center, which receives only minor damage each day, sorting through supplies arriving by truckloads and spilling onto tables inside.

There was no running water and electricity for several weeks in the center and other homes in the area. Lightning has slowly returned to the region, but thousands of homes remain uninhabited – winds blew through walls and roofs, roofs collapsed, or buildings split in two, or piles of rubble.

Residents and officials in bayou communities across the state have been dismayed at the pace of federal aid, as state lawmakers warned the administrations of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and President Joe Biden that thousands of people living in Ida would be safe. There is a lack of stable, and immediate housing. The result has reached a humanitarian crisis.

“Our people – they are hurting too, because they are homeless, they are scattered,” says Ms. Dardar. “It’s hard for everyone. It hurt the whole community.”

Hundreds of residents are still living in tents, trailers and campers, or in their cars or hurricane-damaged homes, and many of the homes that survived.

Terrebon Parish officials have requested 10,000 trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for residents whose homes are not habitable. According to state representative Tanner Magee, none have been distributed.

According to the agency, FEMA has paid for hotel rooms for about 3,200 homes in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish, but residents are pleading for accommodation closer to their homes as they begin the painstaking process of defacing and repairing them. We do. Many area hotels are unavailable, and officials don’t anticipate sending FEMA trailers or mobile homes any time soon.

A vast network of mutual aid groups and volunteers have supported hard-hit areas and indigenous communities in the wake of the storm. tribal leaders made gofundme campaign And make urgent requests on social media for building supplies and volunteers to help rebuild, as well as storage pods to hold cleaning products, laundry detergent, and salvage items in large plastic tubs, and tubs.

“I always said that bayou people are resilient. We usually always hold back,” says Ms. Dardar. “But I am very worried, because most people here do not have the funds to rebuild. If FEMA can’t help, I really don’t know what they’re going to do… We’ve been neglected. We have always been neglected.”

The community of Pointe-aux-Chines, Louisiana, as seen from above on August 31, two days after the arrival of Hurricane Ida.

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The community of Pointe-aux-Chines, Louisiana, as seen from above on August 31, two days after the arrival of Hurricane Ida.

The vanishing le de Jean Charles – one of the southernmost communities in Louisiana along the Gulf of Mexico – has lost 98 percent of its land over the past several decades after levy construction and flood diversion projects, sea level rise and a spurt. Continually battling climate-crisis-fueled storms.

In 2020, the state experienced five major storms – the most in a year. The island is now roughly the size of three football fields. Residents are connected to the island by a single road that often disappears under the surrounding waters and during floods.

The le de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe has organized around their resettlement plan for nearly two decades.

According to the tribe, the tribe has determined that resettlement is “the best way to reunite our displaced tribal members and rekindle our traditional way of life” because, according to the tribe, which provides permanent housing, a community centre, gathering Visualizes the fields, the place for the seeds. Thrift programs and a museum, among other resources.

In 2016, le de Jean-Charles was the first community in the country to receive federal funding for an inland retreat from the effects of the climate crisis. the new York Times America’s first “climate refugee”.

A tribe-led resettlement plan was in place after the state received a $98m grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, including $48m to resettle the tribe “hijacked” by the state, the members have argued, retracting from the conditions laid down by the tribe.

The grant supported the construction of 150 homes on a 515-acre plot in Shriver, about 40 miles from the island.

After Ida, Aboriginal councilor Chris Brunet returned to the le de Jean Charles and put a yellow sign at the foot of his house: “Isle de Jean Charles is not dead. Climate change sucks.”

According to Torbjörn Tornquist of Tulane University, if the rate of sea level rise exceeds 6 to 9 millimeters per year, the remaining wetlands of Louisiana are likely to be overwhelmed by ocean water within 50 years. Wrote a 2020 study finding that the submergence of the state’s coastline is “probably unavoidable”.

The alarming report comes after decades warnings from communities Living on the so-called “frontline” of the climate emergency.

Tribal members are now watching closely to see how a new administration responds to those…

Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Louisiana

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