Deep in the marshland of south Louisiana there is a small swath of land called the Isle de Jean Charles. The Island, as we call it, is home to a Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. The Indian tribe has been here since the early 1800s when Jean Laffite roamed the waters. Now in the twenty-first century the community is on the brink of extinction. Without current Tribal efforts what will be left, soon nothing but Ghost Trees and Legends?
We, the Isle de Jean Charles Tribe began the current resettlement in 2002. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers released the final Morganza to the Gulf Feasibility Report excluding the Isle de Jean Charles from the levee system. The news devastated the tribal community. The Corp proposed resettlement as the most cost effective and safest strategy. The Tribal leadership and community engaged in the process but as most large projects, the plan has bumps.
The following years brought several waves of natural disaster in Hurricanes Lili, Isidore, Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. The Island Tribe and Island was devastated, but not beyond repair. As recovery continued so did talks of resettlement. The Tribe continued to plan and envision what a safe community would look like. Through much planning the tribe developed a plan to move the tribe inland to safety was penned. The effort was flowing but once again hit a road block. As leaders we were distraught, but we returned to our ancestors for guidance.
Our ancestors were plagued with troubles, including racism and discrimination, but through the adversity our Chief Victor Naquin led the Tribe. Due to our social closeness and sustainable life-ways, the Great Depression did not affect the Island Tribe. The Island grew wheat, corn, and other vegetables to eat. The water produced fish, oyster, and shrimp. The livestock offered meat. The Island was self-sustaining, because we traded and took care of each other. Today those are merely legends of time prosperity, though we maintained our social and care networks. Now the tribe and the land are beginning to resemble the ghost trees lining the levees, hollow and dying.
Determination has proved its worth. We the Tribe have continued to persevere. The Tribal community has relentlessly planned and designed a dream tribal community. A tribal community that brings a vision for survival, plan for preservation and a hope for future cultivation is what has been forged. The vision and plan has many layers and partners. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the project before us. We are confident the ripple effect this has started will continue to grow and have lasting impacts. We refuse to let our tribe be nothing but Ghost trees and legends.
Chantel “Dolphin Lady” Comardelle
Tribal Executive Secretary