Two public hearings were held in the Houma area this week regarding the resettlement project for the Isle de Jean Charles (IdJC) tribe of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana.
Both became heated when the Office of Community Development presented plans to the community which barely resembled the initial vision of the tribal members’ new homes.
A bit of background…
The IdJC once claimed a territory of more than 22,000 acres. Years of oil and gas development, hurricanes, and climate change have reduced the island to a mere 325 acres today. The tribe lived mostly in isolation from the early 1700’s through the 1940s-1950s when the oil boom devastated their area. If anyone in the United States could be said the have the smallest contribution to climate change, it’s the people who lived on that island.
A time-lapsed map video I produced while working with the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, cousins of the IdJC, in 2016 at the 100-year anniversary of the first oil well built in the parish.
Tribal members were dubbed the nation’s first climate change refugees in the United States years ago, forced to abandon the lands their ancestors called home for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Louisiana was awarded a large chunk of money from the National Disaster Resilience Competition through a grant written primarily for IdJC – a grant I helped draft while working at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority before I had even met anyone from the IdJC tribe. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allotted $92 million to Louisiana for disaster resilience projects, of which $48 million was earmarked for the relocation of the IDJC Tribe.
The tribe was involved with the relocation efforts from the beginning. They had input on the relocation site and design, or so they were told. The new site was to be a recreation of sorts of their current community, with families and friends staying close to each other, near a bayou where they could continue to live the way they always have.
So when the State purchased a piece of land for nearly $12 million last month, a site that the tribe had not agreed on, Chief Naquin was shocked. A quarter of the money had been spent purchasing the new site, and instead of the island-exclusive community living in homes purchased for them, they were now going to share a subdivision as part of a large complex, with Section 8 housing vouchers instead of paid-for homes.
The outrage came from all sides. Tribal members pleaded with the council not to continue with the site, and to either let the government take back their money or get with tribal leaders and make it right.
Click here and start video at 1:45 for Jacob Dardar’s impassioned plea with local officials.
To make matters worse, the tribe’s proposed neighbors objected to the “Indians” moving in next to them at the hearing.
The mostly-white and affluent community members near the proposed site made openly racist and classist remarks at the meeting, eliciting boos from the other community members who came to speak. They said things like, “We had to accept the Indians coming here, but now you’re saying there might be poor people, and black people, too?!” And, “There are homes worth $350K just down the road and we don’t want to live near the poors.”
The proposed site is on historical Chitimacha land, from which the IdJC primarily descends from. The land where the affluent and white neighbors live was also in the Chitimacha’s traditional tribal territory, and no, those people did not ask permission to build their “$350K nice” homes there, and have no right to claim any authority over it.
How this all plays out and what is next for the tribe remains to be seen. For now, the tribe faces yet another disappointment in a very long line of bad decisions made about them without their consent.
The Isle de Jean Charles are a State-recognized American Indian tribe located in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. To support the tribe, visit their website, or click here.