GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA - 2017

Paper No. 125-5
Presentation Time: 3:55 PM


PARFAIT-DARDAR, Shirell, Grand Caillou/Dulac Band, Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, Chauvin, LA 70344 and COX, Rónadh, Geosciences, Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267,

As the Mississippi River delta subsides and sea level rises to engulf it, Louisiana land is lost at increasing rates. Large swaths of terra firma turn first to marsh and then to open water, leaving a filigree in which narrow green strands—generally the locations of distributary levees—remain barely elevated above the surrounding muddy water. The effects extend far inland.

Members of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians live in Dulac, 17 miles from the coast. The community, strung out along the Grand Caillou levee, lost land at an average of 1% per year between 1974 and 1990 (Britsch and Dunbar 1993). Recent analysis (Zou et al., 2016) shows that subsidence rates—averaging 12.5 mm/yr— are among the highest in southern Louisiana. Felds and woodlands in which Tribe members wandered as children have sunk below sea level and are now traversed in boats. Only the highest ground remains dry—but dry is a relative term. In this inland community, areas that never flooded from the sea now regularly do. Hurricanes are always trouble, but now there are “south wind floods” that inundate the area regularly during spring tides when the wind is from the south. Mitigation programs exist to elevate houses above the floodwaters, but progress is slow. People suffer. Another dilemma is taking care of departed loved ones and ancestors, because graves cannot be protected. Coffins work loose during floods and float away. Some are not recovered.

The people’s identity is one with the land and with the ancestors. As environmental conditions deteriorate, so does their quality of life. Lack of education and lack of opportunity makes it difficult to relocate, but ties to traditional ways of life are also strong and hard to sever. Other Native American groups are similarly threatened and marginalized. Examples include the Grand Bayou Atakapa tribe, whose homes are accessible only by boat, and the nearby Isle de Jean Charles band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw—currently undergoing federal resettlement as the first American “climate refugees”. The people feel disenfranchised. Lacking the financial basis to engineer their own survival, they find that their future is controlled by outsiders wielding power. Narratives of this sort are becoming common in communities at the frontiers of Anthropocene landscape change.