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“We Are Still Here:” Indigenous Communities Demand Action as Tribal Lands Subside (Part 2)

Indigenous wisdom drives a campaign for the preservation of culture and community in Louisiana.
A house on stilts in southern Louisiana.

By Mike Givens on August 8, 2022

Tuesday, August 9 is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In honor of this holiday, UUSC is documenting several Indigenous tribes’ fight for justice as they battle environmental racism and climate change. This is part two of a two-part series. In part one of this series , we learned about the Indigenous communities in southern Louisiana and the obstacles they face in maintaining their homes and communities. In this photo essay, we will see the real-life impacts of climate change on these communities and the effects of poor resource allocation for Indigenous peoples.

A desolate road in southern Louisiana; a storm cloud in the background.
Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. The state of Louisiana, in particular, experiences several storms each year that decimate communities and displace many families. Southern Louisiana often bears the brunt of violent winds, heavy rains, and massive flooding…
A burial site in southern Louisiana.
The impacts of climate change—rapid impacts like storms and slow impacts like land loss—have launched southern Louisiana to the forefront of the climate crisis. Land loss has become so prevalent, invaluable tracts of land—like cemeteries and burial sites—risk sinking into bayous, lakes, and other bodies of water…
In the wake of storms, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities often find themselves in dire need of funds to help rebuild their homes and communities. However, these communities are often deprioritized—and outright ignored—during local, state, and federal recovery efforts in favor of predominantly White communities. Travel through a low-income or minority majority community and you will see several signs of abandonment: blue tarps serving as makeshift roofs; trailers adjacent to houses that are too damaged to continue living in; entire homes with significant water and flood damage…
Trailers like this play a vital role after storms. For the many families who cannot afford to repair their homes, trailers become a second home, a temporary shelter for families as they scramble to pull together enough money to make repairs—or leave the area altogether…
Three homes close together; a trailer sits in front of one of the homes
Blue tarps on tops of homes, houses raised on stilts, trailers housing entire families, front porches littered with household items like refrigerators, microwaves, and dressers. Collectively, these vignettes tell a story. One of communities that are economically depressed, distrustful of local and state governments, and anticipating the next storm season. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, this is how we choose to treat families living on the edge of poverty, racism, and bigotry—all forms of oppression that are perpetuated by those with power, money, and no sense of commitment to those who have inhabited this area for generations…
This is the home of Démé Naquin, a member of the Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe. Démé lives in Montegut, Louisiana and, like so many members of the tribe, has experienced the harsh impacts of climate change. Also, like so many other community members, he worries if the next storm will be the storm that completely destroys his home…
Taken at twilight, this photo captures the damage inflicted upon a public space in Pointe Au Chien, Louisiana (just minutes from Montegut). With no access to resources to rebuild, buildings like this are left to languish…
Look closely at those small drops of rain on the camera. If you look hard enough, you’ll notice the rain drops are orange. Why? Because oil and gas extraction has become so prevalent in southern Louisiana, it’s irreparably altered the ecosystem of the region. Wildlife has died out, the topography has changed, areas once rich with shrimp and fish are now barren, and the chemicals from oil and gas extraction projects have changed the color of rain…
All is not lost. Thanks to Indigenous leaders like Elder Shirell Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Chocta, tribal communities are calling attention to the injustices they face. Elder Shirell stands on a levee—a human-made hill-like structure built to prevent flooding of commercial and residential areas. The levee has been built next to a lake so that when heavy storms come and flooding happens, the hill can prevent flood waters from reaching the local community. Elder Shirell is instrumental in calling attention to the importance of levees and the need for financial resources to not only rebuild communities, but make them stronger for future storm seasons…
Elder Albert Naquin of the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation grew up on the isle. He remembers his childhood living on a vast farm with his parents and siblings. In 2022, he stands in front of the farm—except it no longer is one. Climate change has turned what once was lush land for cattle and crops into a marsh, a wet swamp overtaken by tall grass and mud. Like Elder Shirell, Elder Albert is calling attention to the impacts of climate change. He speaks about his tribe having to evacuate the island and also the treatment he and the tribe received from the state of Louisiana when making plans to leave the isle…

These are but a few stories yearning to be told from those living in southern Louisiana. UUSC and its partner, the Lowlander Center, are working collaboratively to call attention to the injustices faced by BIPOC communities, but also their steadfast advocacy, dignity, and hard work in preserving their ways of life. UUSC and Lowlander are partnering on an international campaign to encourage an official from the United Nations to visit southern Louisiana, meet with the tribes, and make recommendations directly to the federal government to ensure that these communities are not only preserved, but treated with the same dignity and respect as any other communities in Louisiana, the south, and the nation. Stay tuned as we continue this journey, one that will see UUSC produce a documentary about the experiences of these tribes and their fight for equity.

Photo Credit: Craig Richard, Mike Givens

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