Native peoples are the first communities to live with the realities of climate change and the impacts of our energy industrial complex on our food systems - especially the coastal communities in Alaska and Louisiana. As subsistence living becomes impossible due to loss of land and loss of fishing (or hunting) livelihoods, Native communities must change their economic structures along with their traditional food systems.
At Grand Bayou community, deep in southeast Louisiana, the impact of oil extraction on the Atakapa-Ishak Tribe began changing the landscape many years ago. When oil companies first arrived, they each dredged their own water canal up into the bayou to drill for oil. Thus, many waterways brought in salt water and killed all of the live oaks and other trees that had been living there for millenia. The marshes lost their land formations in-between and the old burial mounds along with the ground the Grand Bayou community lived on were eroded away. One mound remains above water.
Throughout their 1500 year old documented history here- when the waters rose, the tribal community evacuated together, in flotillas of boats heading inland to their old home site. Once there, they tied the boats together, made communal meals, held communal washing days with clothing hanging to dry on the tie lines between boats. The children all played together and everyone shared the evening meal and listened to the elders tell of the old days and old ways of living.
Today, the community has moved toward the highway, but the land is still disappearing along with their traditional plants for food and medicine. During Katrina, one hundred year old homes were destroyed and abandoned. But life goes on for this community, as they continue living with the tides. Their shrimping nets can be lowered from their docks during tides and they are able to catch hundreds of pounds of shrimp. But gardening is almost impossible without baskets filled with sandy loam and topped off with good soil. These baskets protect the house from flooding and provide some gardening spaces for fresh greens.
The Grand Bayou people are water people. They choose to stay where they were planted by Great Spirit. As their new homes are flooded out, they plan to move onto larger boats and remain water people living near their ancestors mounds and homelands.
I knew it would be a unique visit when my contact, Leader Rosina Phillipe (pictured below), told me to drive to the end of the road and she would pick me up in her boat. I have visit 73 Indian Reservations, but never one that is completely water based - accessable only by water. It was an honor to visit with the community and learn of their history and their future. You can read more about their history HERE.