United Houma Nation

New Orleans, LA – Community IMPACT Series: United Houma Nation Dec. 1, 2009

Dana Solet is a 21-year-old Louisiana State University student, majoring in communications. Her passion, however, is history, particularly the history of her family and the elders of the United Houma Nation, the Indian tribe of which she is part. That's why, as often as she can, she travels from campus life in Baton Rouge back to her hometown, the tiny bayou village of Dulac. She comes back to listen and to learn.

"Stories about what they were doing when they were younger and things like that really, really hold a special place in my heart because now with the effects of coastal erosion and all these natural disasters, slowly but surely all the land is going away and with the land going away so are all the traditions going away. I would one day want my children to see where I grew up, but if things keep going the way they are, I'm not sure that will happen and I want them to understand and know the importance of the bayou."

The Houma once lived on high ground near Baton Rouge, but waves of European immigration pushed them farther toward the fringes of southeast Louisiana bayou country. Here, they developed a lifestyle in synch with the land and water, and today many Houma people continue traditional livelihoods of trapping and fishing, while tribal healing techniques rely on local plants. But their homeland has now become the frontline of Louisiana's coastal land loss crisis, and there's fear that if vulnerable, storm-battered communities drift apart tribal customs will disappear too. Here's Brenda Dardar Robichaux, principal chief of the United Houma Nation:

"We are feeling floodwaters on a daily basis, some of our roads are completely flooded by water just from the tidal surge or a change of wind direction. There's water in our yards some days now depending on wind change or tidal surge. So we're living it everyday and we're seeing it everyday throughout our tribal communities."

"If people should choose to leave their traditional home, we're trying to find a place where they can move together so we can maintain those community ties, but it's really a difficult emotional decision that people are having to make as we speak."

While groups like the Greater New Orleans Foundation are helping, the Houma largely face this existential struggle on their own. The state recognizes the United Houma Nation, but the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs does not, and that means, unlike other tribes, the Houma have no reservation lands and receive no federal funding for social programs. Without resources, and with their land slipping away, Houma community leaders still find hope in the determination of younger tribal members to carry their traditions to the next generation. Here's the LSU junior Dana Solet again:

"In order for us to sustain our nation, we have to know our traditions, our history and everything that comes with it, and all the challenges as well. So everything that Ms. Brenda is taking on now, I know eventually when it's my turn to come, with my generation, we're going to have to be facing those same challenges but on a different level."

"I want to come back down here and I need to make a difference and that's my goal, nothing's going to stop me, whether it be coastal erosion or the hurricanes, this is my community and I'm going to do everything I can for it."

Learn more about the United Houma Nation at wwno.org. For WWNO, I'm Ian McNulty.