Louisiana: Working Class Communities, Indigenous Tribes on Coast, Still Recovering Three Weeks After Ida

By Maria DeCoteau

For the people of Terrebonne Parish in Southeastern Louisiana, recovery from Hurricane Ida continues to be front-and-center in everyday life. While the bourgeois state and federal governments fail to adequately address needs for safe housing, water, and electricity, community members are joining together to rebuild after the devastation left in late August. The Pointe-aux-Chenes community is located along Louisiana’s Southeastern coastline and home to the state-recognized Pointe-au-Chien* Tribe.

Tribune members assisting in tree removal.

Last Saturday, a crew of Tribune members traveled to the Pointe-aux-Chenes area to assist with the clean-up and recovery that still remains. On the drive into the community, the Tribune members observed that many of the areas with larger, seemingly affluent homes had clean yards and the roofs were repaired.

As the crew moved closer to the coast, however, many homes still bore the mark of the hurricane – some literally in piles of rubble and some where all that remained was the stilts intended to prevent coastal homes from flooding.

During the visit, the Tribune crew spoke with many community members who still did not have electricity or safe drinking water in their homes. Theresa, a Pointe-au-Chien Tribe tribal member and community member of 49-years, told Tribune that power was restored to the community in the evening on Sunday, September 19, after residents had gone three weeks without electricity.

While the state is offering disaster SNAP benefits for food assistance, residents of Terrebonne Parish are not eligible to interview for benefits until October 4, over a month after the hurricane hit the coast. The federal government states that FEMA funds are available for those affected by the hurricane. However, many residents of Pointe-aux-Chenes gave accounts that their applications were rejected. One resident who did receive funds was disappointed that the amount awarded would not even begin to cover the cost of her roof damage.

In the absence of state-provided resources, Pointe-aux-Chenes community members have worked collectively to take care of each other. Convenience store owner Alcee Dupre has been holding weekend cookouts with his cousin to feed people, and community member Lisa has a relative who drove back-and-forth from Mississippi to Pointe-aux-Chenes to deliver relief supplies three times within a three-day span.

Theresa and her husband have been going to the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe Community Center every day since the disaster to help with relief efforts, which they prioritize over fixing the damage in their own roof – leaks currently repaired with ‘Gorilla tape’ as they help others who they see as in need of more urgent help than themselves. The Tribune crew assisted by donating necessities such as toiletries, water, and baby supplies. The crew also helped out with roof repairs and clean-up such as removing a tree which was overhanging a road in town.

The National Weather Service posits that hurricanes make landfall in Louisiana roughly every 2.8 years, and yet the state is still woefully underprepared to prevent and repair damage from these storms. This leaves residents to make their own assumptions about why there is a lack of resources.

According to U.S. Census Data roughly 5% of people in Terrebonne Parish are Native American compared to the national average of 1.5%, and 20% of parish residents are at or below the poverty line. Long-time resident Theresa sees a link between these demographics and the government’s slow response to the area’s devastation. “I think Parish and State [government] ignore us … you know, in the news, they will name every other ethnic group but they will never name Native Americans. It’s like we don’t even exist.” While Ida is recorded as being a Category 4 storm at landfall in LA, many residents argue that it was, in fact, a Category 5 storm.

Residents generally are frustrated with the neglectful response of the state. Theresa expressed desire to attend a Parish council meeting to draw attention to the lack of resources provided to Parish community members. “It’s not only in the American-Indian community … non-native people are being ignored as well. If I could rally them [Natives and non-Natives] to come to the council meeting and we put up a fuss, maybe something would get done … I wouldn’t want to be the only one to show-up because one dog barking is not going to help the situation, we need a lot of dogs there. … Power in numbers.”

Footnote: *The spelling of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe differs from the nearby town of Pointe-aux-Chenes.

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