Native Americans in Gustav’s Path

(7:30PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

I’ve been doing a series on the Chtitmacha and Houma tribes in southern Louisiana and how they have been affected by Gustav.  These folks were ignored during Katrina and Rita, and bore the brunt of Gustav.  A fellow Kos subscriber suggested I cross-post this here.

Below is the latest, for whatever it’s worth.

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Maybe it’s me, but it seems that not only has the MSM floated along in its coverage of what’s going on in LA for New Orleans but the peoples that were ignored last time around are even  more out of sight this time.

Of course, now everyone is Sarah Palin 24/7 and doesn’t have time for other issues…

See my previous diaries here and here. As an admission, I was more concerned about the Chitimacha originally, as I had worked with them back in 2006 after Katrina/Rita.  Obviously, the Houma are in the same boat, so I apologize for giving them and the other tribes short shrift in my initial diaries.

First off, some news, before I rant.

Lafourche parish opened at 4 PM on 9/2…no news on damages or flooding as of yet.

Terrbonne parish is closed until Friday, so we may not get reports until then.

The leaders of the Houma Nation put out this statement this afternoon from Raceland:

Hurricane Gustav has come and gone but his impact remains…to what extent is still uncertain. Our home has a minimal amount of damages with lots of down trees. The Old Store which served as the center of our relief services in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita also suffered wind damage. My concern is to be able to repair the damages as soon as possible so that we may begin to provide relief services in the building. We are without electricity and have very limited cell phone services but do have internet and e-mail. There is a TV being run by a generator with rabbit ears wrapped in foil but can only catch one channel.

Although Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Terrebonne Parish, most coverage is about New Orleans again. We are very limited in the amount of accurate information on the damages to our tribal communities which is quite frustrating. We made an attempt to gain access to our communities to access the damages but were turned away by road blocks. Power lines are still down making the highways impassable. We receive calls from tribal citizens who evacuated the area seeking information on when they can return and the extent of the damages. We have nothing to share at this time. The unknown is agonizing.

My understanding is that Pointe-aux-Chenes, a Chitimacha community, has flooded, and there are reports of levies being overtopped in between Montagut and Pointe-aux-Cehnes.  Lafourche bayou is flooded and Grand Isle is still out of contact.  Neither parish has electricity.

While the storm has moved on, some of the flooding will be delayed, as rainwater makes its way downstream.

Many of the Houmas found their way to the Mississippi Choctaw, who have provided hospitality.  However, there is much anxiety on what will remain after already having gone through Katrina and Rita so recently.

According to a very good article on the website of the Institute for Southern Studies,


Terrebonne residents who stayed through the storm told reporters it was easily the worst they’d ever seen. They questioned whether it was a really just a Category 2.

Ricky Trahan, a 47-year-old shrimper from the Terrebonne community of Chauvin who rode out Gustav on his boat, also told the Times-Picayune that conditions across coastal Louisiana seemed to be getting more dangerous:

“It used to be safe harbor down here,” Trahan said. “Not anymore. We keep going further up” the bayou when storms approach.

While there are a number of public efforts underway to restore degraded coastal lands and thus better protect Louisiana’s residents from storms, none of them comes close to the minimum estimate of $14 billion needed for truly sustainable restoration. If the federal government does not take action soon, the problem will only grow much worse — and Louisiana’s wetlands are already disappearing at the fastest clip in the nation, with up to 40 square miles lost each year.

Tragically, this erosion threatens not only land but traditional cultures tied to that land — that of Cajun fishers like Trahan, whose name can be traced back to Louisiana’s original Acadian settlers, and the indigenous Houma people who live along south Louisiana’s bayous and in coastal fishing communities.

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Rant:  I’m not a Native American, nor do I claim ancestry.  I worked in this region for 8 days in 2006, but in that time I came to realize that here is yet another people subjected to the bullshit that white people have imposed.  

Unlike the peoples of the Great Plains, who can see their ancestral lands and hope that someday circumstances will lead to their reclamation, the native peoples of the bayou literally see their lands disappear under water year after year.  I can think of few more visceral ways to face cultural extinction than to watch the lands of your ancestors disappear because of what has been imposed on the natural order of things.  These folks are literally facing extinction as a culture because mostly white people upstream along the Mississippi River decided they didn’t like the natural flooding patterns of the river and wanted to better control it.  This greatly reduced the silt deposits which make up the Mississippi Delta region, where the Chitimacha and Houna make their homes.  

And it doesn’t end there.  Most of these peoples earn their livelihoods from the sea through fishing and harvesting oysters, shrimp and other shellfish.  The return on these efforts is minimal, leaving a high proportion in poverty.  Even so, due to the trash and junk left on the seabed by offshore drilling, these fishermen continually incur losses of their catches and equipment from being ensnarled on artificial obstacles, many of which are uncharted and cannot be detected by sonar equipment.

The flooding and the wind damage will make the headlines, but the coastal erosion will probably be very bad.  Katrina and Rita took out 138,000 acres of land…how many more acres will be lost from Gustav?  

Here’s what the USGS has said about erosion previously:

USGS and other studies indicate that major shifts in the course of the Mississippi River have contributed significantly to the demise of the wetlands.

The 300 kilometer-wide Mississippi River delta plain and its associated wetlands and barrier shorelines are the product of the continuous accumulation of sediments deposited by the river and its distributaries during the past 7,000 years. Regular shifts in the river’s course have resulted in four ancestral and two active delta lobes, which accumulated as overlapping, stacked sequences of unconsolidated sands and muds. As each delta lobe was abandoned by the river, its main source of sediment, the deltas experienced erosion and degradation due to compaction of loose sediment, rise in relative sea level, and catastrophic storms. Marine coastal processes eroded and reworked the seaward margins of the deltas forming sandy headlands and barrier beaches. As erosion and degradation continued, segmented low-relief barrier islands formed and eventually were separated from the mainland by shallow bays and lagoons.

Barrier islands fronting the Mississippi River delta plain act as a buffer to reduce the effects of ocean waves and currents on associated estuaries and wetlands. Louisiana’s barrier islands are eroding, however, at a rate of up to 20 meters per year; so fast that, according to recent USGS estimates, several will disappear by the end of the century. As the barrier islands disintegrate, the vast system of sheltered wetlands along Louisiana’s delta plains are exposed to the full force and effects of open marine processes such as wave action, salinity intrusion, storm surge, tidal currents, and sediment transport that combine to accelerate wetlands deterioration.

Natural processes alone are not responsible for the degradation and loss of wetlands in the Mississippi River delta plain. The seasonal flooding that previously provided sediments critical to the healthy growth of wetlands has been virtually eliminated by construction of massive levees that channel the river for nearly 2000 kilometers; sediment carried by the river is now discharged far from the coast, thereby depriving wetlands of vital sediment. In addition, throughout the wetlands, an extensive system of dredged canals and flood-control structures, constructed to facilitate hydrocarbon exploration and production as well as commercial and recreational boat traffic, has enabled salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to intrude brackish and freshwater wetlands. Moreover, forced drainage of the wetlands to accommodate development and agriculture also contribute to wetlands deterioration and loss.

This is not a Republican or Democratic issue.  The GOP governor, Bobby Jindal, has at least made the right noises about investing in the reversal of the coastal erosion.  However the effort is going to require significant federal funds to turn the tide.  Maybe even as much as a month in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Houma are trying to relocate their communities to higher water, though they are woefully underfunded for this effort.  If anyone can contact the Obama campaign in LA to see if his donor list could be used for this effort, that would be awesome.  

I’ll have more later this week…

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New from the United Houma Nation:


Although we were turned away by road blocks as we tried to gain access into Terrebonne Parish, waiting and wondering was no longer an option. Determined, eight of us decided to venture “down the bayou” in order to see if we could get through to our communities in Lower Lafourche Parish. We made it through two road blocks by showing my dad Whitney’s driver’s license providing proof that he lived in the community. Many stops were made along the way assessing the damages to our People’s home and property and then calling the homeowner with the news. Power lines and trees are down, but most homes are still in tact with wind damage, no flooding. My dad offered praise and glory to the creator as he realized his fishing boat was spared any damage. Although a fellow tribal citizen and friend’s boat didn’t do as well and has some cabin damage. Our last stop was the Old Indian Settlement School which serves as the UHN tribal center. It too has roof damage but remains in tact. The little building in the front built by volunteers in which we hope to house our future radio station didn’t do so well and has extensive roof damage. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that although there is wind damage, homes are left standing and can be rebuilt.

The next stop on our journey was to try to gain access to Grand Bois. We attempted to travel a wooded highway known as the Houma shortcut. After going approximately 10 miles around trees that lined the highway, one huge tree blocked the entire highway and forced us to turn around. So the damages to this community remains unknown to us.

We then made another attempt to gain access into Terrebonne Parish as we learned that Tier 2 people were being allowed into the parish. We made it through two road blocks and headed “down the bayou” to Dulac. Unfortunately, Hurricane Gustav was not as kind to this community. We traveled down the bayou on Grand Cailou Road and then made an attempt to head back up the bayou on Shrimpers Row but the road was impassable due to flooding, downed power lines and trees. With the smell of marsh water in the air, we traveled through water knee high in order to access the flood damages. Some homes were flooded the extent depending on the elevation of the home with the lower level homes receiving the most damage. The extensive damages to this community were mostly caused by wind. We witnessed everything from minor wind damage to total loss of use, with most homes in need of major repairs.

It is unknown when the People from this community will be allowed back home. The unavailability of re-entry causes a financial burden which has great cause for concern. It can be compared to an unplanned vacation with lodging, gas and eating expenses.

With extensive power lines and trees down, throughout our communities, it will be quite some time before electricity is restored. It’s heartbreaking to see the Houma Nation community going through this again just three years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Today, we plan to journey to St. Bernard parish to access Hurricane Gustav’s impact on this community.

8 comments

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  1. … for posting this here, dizzydean.

    If you would, can you write a little about what you were working on during those 8 days and the impression you got about the people you met?  I’m so curious after having read your first diary on this.

    Winter Rabbit also posts on Native American issues here and I’ve learned so much, especially about sacred spaces, and how here in the US our culture just doesn’t care much about that.

    I think we’re seeing the results of that now, and it isn’t pretty.

    Again, thanks.  If you’re interested, this will be promoted to the front page at 7:30 tonight.

    • dizzydean on September 4, 2008 at 1:24 am
      Author

    Let’s see…I went to New Orleans as a college prof (I now teach at a private Catholic high school) chaperoning 12 students in the Spring of 2006 (the pics from the first diary were mine).

    First off, driving through New Orleans at night was very shocking–vast areas of apartments along the highway had no power and to see a major city 7 months after Katrina still looking like a bomb had gone off was unreal.

    At any rate, we got to Pointe-aux-Chiens area and promptly got to work.  The people were mostly fishermen or worked on the shrimpboats.  There was some land being farmed or used for pasturage, but most folks worked on the boats.  We were broken into smaller groups for individual jobs–the three students who went with me helped replace insulation under a double-wide.  The owner was on disability for a back injury, while his wife worked for $18,00 per year as a teacher’s aide.  The mobile home community was carved out of a sugar cane field.  The water off the bayou that came in from Rita traveled miles, but still put 3 feet of water in this area.

    As for the people, they have a strong sense of fatalism.  They deal with what comes and try to survive.  However, this is not without some anger.  We had the opportunity to attend a church service down the road that was almost entirely Chitimacha. They are angry at being forgotten, angry at losing their land and angry that this happens to all Native Americans.  As a white guy, I felt very out of place and very guilty.

    I will say, that when we finished the job, the houseowner just couldn’t have been happier, so our work was appreciated, which made a nice impression on the students.  

    The Mennonites did a nice job of bringing people in to talk with us.  We had the chance to hear from a local elder who told us about how he was unable to receive an education after 8th grade, because he couldn’t attend a white school due to segregation, but also couldn’t attend a negro school.  There were no Indian schools above the 8th grade, so most of their people were never educated beyond jr. high.  Also, there was a lot of racism by the Cajun community, so when they could get jobs, they found themselves really at the bottom of the barrel.  The cultural pressure was such that the Chitimacha and Houma lost their languages.

    Pretty sobering stuff, but not surprising given the treatment of Native Americans elsewhere.    

    • dizzydean on September 4, 2008 at 1:26 am
      Author

    so if anyone would like to use these comments in an appropriate venue, please feel free…I care more that the Chitimacha and Houma get some recognition and maybe some help…  

  2. Look forward to more from you.  It amazes me that some people still don’t believe that people are people.

    • Temmoku on September 4, 2008 at 4:29 am

    It is so much easier to go back and reread something on this site. At the orange one you have to remember tags and such…too hard for this old brain.

    Great posting.

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