For generations, the family of Thomas Dardar Jr. lived on a small bayou island off the coast of Louisiana called Isle de Jean Charles. Environmental changes, rising sea levels, and storms have dramatically altered the island. Home to members of the United Nation of Houma, the island now covers about 320 acres, a fraction of more than 22,000 acres in the mid-20th century.
Major hurricanes, including Katrina and Ida, hit the area. Relief efforts have struggled to cope with the 2005 devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people along the Gulf Coast, washed away coastal land and caused more than 100 damage. billion USD. The island’s only road inland is often impassable because of strong winds and rising water. Water intrusion has made farming difficult.
Now, only a handful of citizens live on the Isle de Jean Charles, Dardar said. “We are losing ground here in Louisiana – they say one football field every 90 minutes,” said Dardar, a former leader of the United Houma Nation, which has about 17,000 members. “Now it’s faster than that.”
In 2016, the Louisiana state government received a federal grant to help resettle residents on the island, among them Houma. Some people don’t want to move. For many others, moving is a pain.
Divided by the loss of land, infrastructure and cultural heritage along Louisiana’s south coast, members of the United Houma Nation are among those in the region most vulnerable to change. climate and its effects on health. Health advocates fear the consequences could be worse for Indigenous people, who have higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and a number of other health problems than whites.
The Houma Nation is not recognized as a tribe by the federal government, but a change in 2015 to federal standards could reduce barriers to federal status for the tribe, more than 35 year after the first filing.
Lanor Curole, a member of the Houma Nation who oversees their day-to-day operations, said that recognition would allow Houma to work directly with the federal government rather than through an intermediary to secure resources. force. Direct contact with federal officials during an emergency can save valuable time in providing relief to critical communities like Houma, she said.
“Our people are on that front line, but we don’t have a seat at that table,” she said.
In 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill released at least 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, The incident devastated the people of Houma. It contaminates the area, destroys ecosystems, threatens commercial fishing, and exposes humans to toxic substances known to cause cancer. But after that environmental disaster, BP, the company that used the rig, did not have to pay direct damages to Houma because the tribe was not one of the 574 recognized by the federal government.
To be federally recognized, tribes must demonstrate that they meet a number of criteria, including that their members come from a historic tribe and that they are a distinct community. Dan Lewerenz, a law professor at the University of North Dakota, said the lack of federal recognition means the government doesn’t see Houma as a self-governing sovereign entity.
Houma leaders say community status has become a barrier to getting support to tackle climate emergencies. Meanwhile, the Chitimacha, a federally recognized tribe in the region, partnered with the federal government in 2016 to develop an adaptation plan to address climate pressures.
Serious health concerns related to climate change include waterborne infections such as E. coli and mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and West Nile virus, issues that cause plague-stricken communities.
Houma is not eligible for care through the Indian Health Service, although options are already slim in the region. According to the 2010 community needs assessment conducted by the tribe, more than a half member Houma suffers from cardiovascular disease.
Health researchers and social scientists link health inequalities among Indigenous peoples to intergenerational vulnerabilities, with younger generations having associated poor health outcomes to the experience of their ancestors. Historical traumas experienced by Native Americans in the United States include genocide and displacement.
In vulnerable communities along the coast, people often don’t have the extra funds needed to rebuild after a storm, putting them at risk of losing their homes. Infrastructure repair costs can be prohibitively high, forcing some people to move elsewhere and further suffocating communities that are already resource-poor and suffocated by essential needs such as schools and doctor.
“There are very few grocery stores on the bay,” said Shanondora Billiot, who studies the impact of environmental changes on the health of indigenous people in Louisiana. “Many people have to drive 30 to 45 minutes to get to the nearest grocery store with fresh fruits and vegetables because many people can no longer grow those vegetables on their land.”
Billiot’s research on the Houma Nation found that repeated exposure to environmental disasters affected people’s mental health, and she noticed some members were “sad” which she compared with symptoms. of post-traumatic stress disorder. “Climate change disrupts the expression of culture and the protective factors that culture and identity have on health,” Billiot said.
Jobs are scarce and the cost of flood insurance – a requirement in coastal areas – is so high that some people can no longer afford their homes. Expensive flood insurance premiums helped push Curole out of her home in Golden Meadow, Louisiana. “I would spend more each month on insurance than I would spend on a home note,” she said. “And I can’t afford it.”
In August 2021, Hurricane Ida, a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, made landfall just 20 miles south of Golden Meadow. Nearly 16 years on from the day after Hurricane Katrina, Ida has caused enormous damage, overwhelming preparation and relief efforts.
For coastal dwellers like Houma, each year could bring the next big storm, and with the rise of climate change, it’s increasingly likely. Hurricane season usually peaks in September and October. according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“They rolled up their sleeves and got into building, rebuilding, helping their neighbors and starting from scratch,” Billiot said. “And they are considered resilient because of that. However, the citizens have said, “I don’t want to be resilient.”
This article includes reporting from Taylor Cook, Zach Dyer and Dr. Céline Gounder that was first aired in “Climate change, cultural resilience“Of the podcast “American Diagnosis”.