A Gulf Coast Tribal Community in Crisis

By Amy Graham 05-13-2010

The Houma Tribe, located in southern Louisiana, has had more than their fair share of trials and obstacles over the last 100 years. The oil spill may be the final straw.

Currently there are 17,000 members of the Houma tribe, and though they have tribal status with the state of Louisiana, they are not a federally recognized tribe. They lost their bid to gain federal status 20 years ago, in part because of opposition from other tribes. Many of the tribal members make their living in the waters off the shore of Louisiana, fishing for crab, shrimp, and other fish. The recent oil spill has completely disrupted their livelihood, and many Houma feel the spill has also robbed them of their heritage.

In January 2006, just months after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, I had the opportunity to meet members of the Houma Tribe, including Brenda Dardar Robichaux, the Principal Chief of the tribe. During my social work internship at Boston University, I was asked to design a popular education workshop on economic development specifically for the Houma community. As a Cherokee woman from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation, folks at BU felt I might be able to relate to the Houma tribe in a way that others from the organization would not.

The Houma are a beautiful people with a rich tribal heritage. What I was most struck by in my time with them was the integration of the Christian faith with tribal tradition. It demonstrated how one can maintain tribal integrity and still be a faithful follower of Christ.

The Houma community is at a crossroads right now. With the oil spill in the gulf taking over their waters and land, it is unclear how the community will move forward. The identity of the Houma tribe is very much tied to the natural resources that surround them. Unfortunately, without federal recognition, the Houma are unable to fight the oil companies or the government for their rights to the land. In fact, the oil companies petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs against recognition of the Houma tribe.

The Houma tribe has been oppressed in various ways for many years, and this is yet one more incident that is chipping away at their culture, land, and heritage.

portrait-amy-grahamAmy Graham lives in Washington, D.C., and is a church planter, social worker, and mother.

+ Ask President Obama and Congress to support a climate and energy bill that protects people and the planet, not polluters.

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