Pushed to the edge, tribe members in coastal Louisiana wonder where to go after Ida



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Annie Parfait, a Houma Nation elder, sits outside her home in Dulac, La., on Sept. 21, three weeks after Hurricane Ida made landfall in southeast Louisiana. Parfait, 70, rode out the storm at the Houma Nation Headquarters in Houma, La.

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When Ida slammed the coast with winds clocked upwards of 160 mph, it devastated the fishing town located 70 miles from New Orleans. Across southeast Louisiana, gusts sliced open roofs, tore down power lines and overturned mobile homes and boats. Although the levees largely held back major flooding, entire houses blew away.

Having lived in Dulac for 70 years, the Parfaits have weathered quite a few storms in their time, including Hurricane Katrina.

«We really hadn’t seen one like this,» Annie said.

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Annie Parfait, a Houma Nation elder, cleans out her home in Dulac on Sept. 21. Having lived in Dulac for 70 years, she and her husband Roy have weathered quite a few storms in their time. «We really hadn’t seen one like this,» she said.

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«Please don’t forget us,» reads a sign in Bourg, La., on Sept. 25, three weeks after Hurricane Ida made landfall.

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Left: A water-damaged old school picture of Annie Parfait at her home in Dulac. Right: Parfait sits for a portrait outside her home. During the storm she stayed at the tribe’s headquarters, located in Houma.

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«This is a lingering triage moment,» Houma tribal administrator Lanor Curole says. «That is how I’m describing it — triage. We’re putting on band aids.» Here, she cleans out her office and Houma Nation headquarters in Houma on Sept. 23.

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Curole (right) helps Laura Billiot and her husband with their unemployment in Houma on Sept. 23.

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Chief August Creppel of the Houma Nation is photographed while at work on Sept. 5. «Ninety percent of the help we get is help that people reached out to us or we reached out to them,» he says.

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Weather
Louisiana’s Houma Nation Was Devastated By Hurricane Ida

«The government’s position was basically, in a nutshell, that you are Indigenous, but you can’t prove what tribe you came from,» said Mark Miller, a history professor at Southern Utah University history and author of the book Forgotten Tribes.

As early as 1682, French writings place the tribe on the Mississippi River, just north of present-day Baton Rouge, according to Miller. In the late 1700s through the 1800s, European and American settlements eventually drove the Houma south to settle in the coastal region.

«A lot of these people did have [Houma] heritage,» Miller said. But, because of intertribal marriage, warfare and diseases, he said, it wouldn’t be surprising if the original Houma tribe splintered into a mix of various ancestral ties.

Where the U.S. government saw a gap in the historical paper trail, tribal administrator Curole said the Houma see a flawed process that can’t shake Western conceptions of Native communities.

«We are being held to the standard of European documentation — you’re hoping some Europeans think you’re important enough to write about,» she said.

The Houma come from an oral tradition, she said, and, although they have been spread out along the bayous for decades, a network of canals made for easy transportation.

Criticism over the tribal recognition criteria pressured the Obama administration to reform the bureau’s approval process. The removal of a key barrier could help: Now, all tribes must prove their existence and cohesion starting only in 1900. The United Houma Nation’s bid for recognition is stalled until it revises its petition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs based on the new rules, the bureau told NPR in an email.

Miller said the new guidelines haven’t dropped a critical sticking point: Tribes still must prove that they descend from a tribe whose existence is chronicled in analog documents dating 1900 or earlier. «That’s going to be kind of a burden,» he said. «Historical documents on non-white people are very difficult to find.»

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Jordan Menard, of Bvlbancha Collective, helps tribal elders on Sept. 22, in the wake of Hurricane Ida.

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Left: A pelican is mired in oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast, June 3, 2010. Right: An oil slick caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster is seen on April 26, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico.

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At left, a marsh creation project stands in the coastal waters near Louisiana Highway 1 on Aug. 24, 2019, in Grand Isle, La. New marsh has been created by the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana to create habitat and fortify marshland that had been devastated by years of erosion and storms.

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Monique Verdin, photographed in New Orleans on Sept. 29. «You can’t run from climate change,» she says. «My fear is that people will be scattered to the winds.»

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Jordan Menard, of Bvlbancha Collective, helps tribal elders in Dulac on Sept. 22. The organization helps fund «the various needs of our indigenous community and to help other indigenous communities,» according to a statement on their website.

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Jordan Menard, of Bvlbancha Collective, helps tribal elders in Dulac on Sept. 22. The organization helps fund «the various needs of our indigenous community and to help other indigenous communities,» according to a statement on their website.

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Looking into the future, there’s at least one thing about the Houma tribe that doesn’t give her concern.

«People really show up in times of disaster,» she said.

Hafsa Fathima, Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Michele Abercrombie contributed to this report.

  • hurricane ida
  • Native American tribes
  • Native Americans
  • Houma
  • Louisiana



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