June 1, 2017

In the Face of Land Erosion and Relocation

My name is Katie DeHart, and I have been a Cultural and Climate Tribal Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA member for about four months now. I'm a member of Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indian. My community is located in Coastal Louisiana. 

I work with another VISTA member who is a member of Grand Bayou Atakapa-Istak tribe. We are working with five local Coastal Louisiana tribal communities: Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indian, Pointe Au Chien Indain Tribe, Grand Caillou-Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians and Golden Meadow Band of Biloxi-Chitimach-Choctaw Indians and one community that is further inland, the Avoyelles-Taensa tribe in Marksville.

All six tribes are facing climate related challenges that impact their way of life. The five coastal tribal communities are faced with land erosion, salt water intrusion and one community (Isle de Jean Charles) with relocation.

The Avoyelles-Taensa tribe in Marksville is facing more impacts to their sweet potato crop due to not having cold weather to kill the pests.

The Need for Protection of Our Land

The tribes have historically depended upon farming, fishing and hunting for their lifestyle. The indigenous communities are mostly located outside the levee-protected areas and face greater risk than inland communities. In fact, many community members have had to relocate over time.

Communities outside of the levee-protected areas are disproportionately impacted by climate change, land loss and are often excluded from state and local planning mechanisms. Changes in federal flood insurance policies as well as recent state planning efforts continue to lead to disproportionate impacts to our indigenous communities.

Collaboration Among Coastal Louisiana Tribal Communities

The First People's Conservation Council and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service have partnered together to recommend proposals for conservation projects for Louisiana tribal members.

The goals of this partnership are to:

  • Make federal and state Conservation programs work with First People's Conservation Council and tribal communities for the restoration of our land, water and clean air through education and demonstration.
  • Increase cultural diversity in science through promoting meaningful and ethical collaboration between indigenous and non-indigenous partners.
  • Create networks with new partners to gain productivity and effective ways to reduce vulnerability and foster resilience.

A Resettlement Plan Due to Climate Change

Over time many tribal members have had to leave their community as a result of climate change, land loss and hurricane impacts. The Isle de Jean Charles Community in Pointe-Aux-Chenes is actively planning for relocation at this time to keep the community together in the wake of extreme land loss.

Their resettlement plan will:

  • Provide safe and sustainable homes and living conditions as a community re-locating.  Sustaining traditional agriculture, healing plants and subsistence agriculture.
  • Build life-way capacities of the tribal members and enable them to remain resilient and making appropriate choices as they are impacted by climate change and sea level rise.

My Role as a Cultural and Climate Tribal Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA Member

As a VISTA member, I'm working and collaborating with all six native tribes. My duties include attending tribal meetings, grant research and appointments for the tribes. I also attend First People's Conservation Council meetings and conferences.

I will continue to educate myself on the challenges the tribal communities in Coastal Louisiana are facing. I have learned with all the challenges the communities are facing every day, they unite together as family. The community members help each other in any way they see fit, whether it's during a disaster or just someone needing help now. I'm proud to be a part of this community and working with the community to make this a resilient place that we can all call home for a long time. 

I'm excited to be a VISTA member and look forward to continuing my year of service.

Katie Dehart is a Cultural and Climate Tribal Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA member hosted by the Lowlander Center.

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