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Reclaiming native ground: Can Louisiana’s tribes restore their traditional diets as waters rise?

Barry Yeoman, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Apr 18 2017 - 11:45

When Theresa Dardar was growing up in Houma, her mother used to take her to visit relatives in the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe community. They would drive 20 miles toward the Gulf of Mexico, park at the local grocery store, and ask someone to ferry them across the bayou. From there, they’d walk across land thick with oak, hackberry, and palmetto until they reached her grandfather’s house.

Dardar’s grandfather raised chickens and pigs. Next door, her uncle raised cattle. Even at 62, Dardar carries a vivid memory of her grandfather dipping a cup into the blood of a freshly slaughtered pig and drinking it. He would send some of the pork home with Dardar’s mother, who would make it into boudin sausages. She would also bring home some of the redfish he caught in the waters near his home.

Back then, tribal members fed themselves well—with seafood, of course, but also with the livestock they raised, the fruits and vegetables they planted, and the marsh hens they extricated from their fur traps. They hunted for turtle and alligator, too, and gathered medicinal plants from the land.

That’s because there was land. Viewed from above in the early 20th century, Pointe-au-Chien was surrounded by a dense thicket of green, broken up by splashes of blue. Those proportions flipped over Dardar’s lifetime. The land vanished until the community became a narrow neck of high ground surrounded almost entirely by open water. The area immediately around Terrebonne Bay, which includes Pointe-au-Chien, went from 10 percent water in 1916 to 90 percent in 2016, according to geographer Rebekah Jones, a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University. The U.S. Geological Survey said the larger Terrebonne Basin lost almost 30 percent of its land from 1932 to 2010.

Today, the property surrounding Dardar’s grandfather’s home bears little resemblance to the place she visited as a child. “There’s no more trees,” she said. “There’s a little strip of land where he and my uncle lived… The piece of land is so small now that I don’t think anyone would be able to live there.”

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