Flooding Begins on Pine Ridge Rez


  Disaster Alert: Floods in South Dakota

   March 11, 2010

   Disaster Alert

   South Dakota – Flooding is expected in Pine Ridge (Indian Reservation) and may affect about 500 people in the small town of Calico.

   The Black Hills Area chapter opened a shelter last night, will be delivering supplies today, and do damage assessment.


Doreen Twobulls  just was notified that red cross is evacuating our commnity due to flooding comming down from the hills.i am amongst 10 other families. im freaking out because the water is getting pretty high and i really hate to leave my home with 6 kids plus the lil one year old im caring for. THIS SUCKS AND SCAREY

Yesterday at 12:59pm

Update: Chitmacha and Houma Tribes Weather Gustav

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 A pair of updates from KOS….

Gustav rolled into Terrebonne Parish and so far the damage estimates have yet to really come in from the bayou communities.  There apparently was a lot of wind damage. Before the Houma newspaper went off-line, it reported flooding in the area, especially Point-aux-Chenes.  No one is being allowed back into the area until at least tomorrow and maybe not until Friday.  

From yesterday’s RezNet:

The United Houma Nation, Lousiana’s largest tribe still struggling to recover from devastating storms three years ago, took a direct hit Monday morning from Hurricane Gustav, which lashed tribal communities with dangerous 110 mph winds and a feared storm surge of 10 to 14 feet.

The National Hurricane Center reported that Gustav’s center struck the Gulf Coast near Cocodrie, La., a bayou town in Terrebonne Parish. The landfall site is located 40 miles south of Raceland, La., where Houma Principal Chief Brenda Dardar Robichaux is sheltering about 20 other tribal members in her home.

“Our spirits are up and we’re safe,” said Robichaux in a telephone interview from her home. “Although smaller trees are falling down all around us, the 60-foot oak trees are bending but not breaking and the cypress trees are leaning but haven’t broken. Magnolia branches are down and there are tree limbs everywhere.”

Robichaux said that as the worst of the storm hit the area, there was a “tremendous howling sound” from the winds and the group had to switch to emergency generators when the power went out shortly after dawn.

Robichaux said she had yet to hear of any injuries or specific damages suffered by tribal members from the storm but pointed out that the hurricane’s path included communities in Terrebonne and LaFourche Parishes where many of the Houma Nation’s 36,000 members live.

Thomas Dardar, a Houma tribal official who evacuated to Gonzales, La., near Baton Rouge, said he had been monitoring fire department reports and been in contact with authorities responding to emergency calls. He learned that some rooftops were ripped off buildings in Terrebonne Parish and that broken trees and debris littered streets.

Despite initial reports that a levee had broken, Dardar said there is no evidence that was the case. “As of late this morning, none of the levees had been breached,” he said.

I’ll keep an eye out on what’s going on and when info comes in and will post tomorrow.


Posting tomorrow (9/3):

Maybe it’s me, but it seems that not only has the MSM floated along in its coverage of what’s going on in LA for New Orleans but the peoples that were ignored last time around are even  more out of sight this time.

Of course, now everyone is Sarah Palin 24/7 and doesn’t have time for other issues…

See my previous diaries here and here. As an admission, I was more concerned about the Chitimacha originally, as I had worked with them back in 2006 after Katrina/Rita.  Obviously, the Houma are in the same boat, so I apologize for giving them and the other tribes short shrift in my initial diaries.

First off, some news, before I rant.

Lafourche parish opened at 4 PM on 9/2…no news on damages or flooding as of yet.

Terrbonne parish is closed until Friday, so we may not get reports until then.

The leaders of the Houma Nation put out this statement this afternoon from Raceland:

Hurricane Gustav has come and gone but his impact remains…to what extent is still uncertain. Our home has a minimal amount of damages with lots of down trees. The Old Store which served as the center of our relief services in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita also suffered wind damage. My concern is to be able to repair the damages as soon as possible so that we may begin to provide relief services in the building. We are without electricity and have very limited cell phone services but do have internet and e-mail. There is a TV being run by a generator with rabbit ears wrapped in foil but can only catch one channel.

Although Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Terrebonne Parish, most coverage is about New Orleans again. We are very limited in the amount of accurate information on the damages to our tribal communities which is quite frustrating. We made an attempt to gain access to our communities to access the damages but were turned away by road blocks. Power lines are still down making the highways impassable. We receive calls from tribal citizens who evacuated the area seeking information on when they can return and the extent of the damages. We have nothing to share at this time. The unknown is agonizing.

My understanding is that Pointe-aux-Chenes, a Chitimacha community, has flooded, and there are reports of levies being overtopped in between Montagut and Pointe-aux-Cehnes.  Lafourche bayou is flooded and Grand Isle is still out of contact.  Neither parish has electricity.

While the storm has moved on, some of the flooding will be delayed, as rainwater makes its way downstream.

Many of the Houmas found their way to the Mississippi Choctaw, who have provided hospitality.  However, there is much anxiety on what will remain after already having gone through Katrina and Rita so recently.

According to a very good article on the website of the Institute for Southern Studies,

Terrebonne residents who stayed through the storm told reporters it was easily the worst they’d ever seen. They questioned whether it was a really just a Category 2.

Ricky Trahan, a 47-year-old shrimper from the Terrebonne community of Chauvin who rode out Gustav on his boat, also told the Times-Picayune that conditions across coastal Louisiana seemed to be getting more dangerous:

“It used to be safe harbor down here,” Trahan said. “Not anymore. We keep going further up” the bayou when storms approach.

While there are a number of public efforts underway to restore degraded coastal lands and thus better protect Louisiana’s residents from storms, none of them comes close to the minimum estimate of $14 billion needed for truly sustainable restoration. If the federal government does not take action soon, the problem will only grow much worse — and Louisiana’s wetlands are already disappearing at the fastest clip in the nation, with up to 40 square miles lost each year.

Tragically, this erosion threatens not only land but traditional cultures tied to that land — that of Cajun fishers like Trahan, whose name can be traced back to Louisiana’s original Acadian settlers, and the indigenous Houma people who live along south Louisiana’s bayous and in coastal fishing communities.


Rant:  I’m not a Native American, nor do I claim ancestry.  I worked in this region for 8 days in 2006, but in that time I came to realize that here is yet another people subjected to the bullshit that white people have imposed.  

Unlike the peoples of the Great Plains, who can see their ancestral lands and hope that someday circumstances will lead to their reclamation, the native peoples of the bayou literally see their lands disappear under water year after year.  I can think of few more visceral ways to face cultural extinction than to watch the lands of your ancestors disappear because of what has been imposed on the natural order of things.  These folks are literally facing extinction as a culture because mostly white people upstream along the Mississippi River decided they didn’t like the natural flooding patterns of the river and wanted to better control it.  This greatly reduced the silt deposits which make up the Mississippi Delta region, where the Chitimacha and Houna make their homes.  

And it doesn’t end there.  Most of these peoples earn their livelihoods from the sea through fishing and harvesting oysters, shrimp and other shellfish.  The return on these efforts is minimal, leaving a high proportion in poverty.  Even so, due to the trash and junk left on the seabed by offshore drilling, these fishermen continually incur losses of their catches and equipment from being ensnarled on artificial obstacles, many of which are uncharted and cannot be detected by sonar equipment.

The flooding and the wind damage will make the headlines, but the coastal erosion will probably be very bad.  Katrina and Rita took out 138,000 acres of land…how many more acres will be lost from Gustav?  

Here’s what the USGS has said about erosion previously:

USGS and other studies indicate that major shifts in the course of the Mississippi River have contributed significantly to the demise of the wetlands.

The 300 kilometer-wide Mississippi River delta plain and its associated wetlands and barrier shorelines are the product of the continuous accumulation of sediments deposited by the river and its distributaries during the past 7,000 years. Regular shifts in the river’s course have resulted in four ancestral and two active delta lobes, which accumulated as overlapping, stacked sequences of unconsolidated sands and muds. As each delta lobe was abandoned by the river, its main source of sediment, the deltas experienced erosion and degradation due to compaction of loose sediment, rise in relative sea level, and catastrophic storms. Marine coastal processes eroded and reworked the seaward margins of the deltas forming sandy headlands and barrier beaches. As erosion and degradation continued, segmented low-relief barrier islands formed and eventually were separated from the mainland by shallow bays and lagoons.

Barrier islands fronting the Mississippi River delta plain act as a buffer to reduce the effects of ocean waves and currents on associated estuaries and wetlands. Louisiana’s barrier islands are eroding, however, at a rate of up to 20 meters per year; so fast that, according to recent USGS estimates, several will disappear by the end of the century. As the barrier islands disintegrate, the vast system of sheltered wetlands along Louisiana’s delta plains are exposed to the full force and effects of open marine processes such as wave action, salinity intrusion, storm surge, tidal currents, and sediment transport that combine to accelerate wetlands deterioration.

Natural processes alone are not responsible for the degradation and loss of wetlands in the Mississippi River delta plain. The seasonal flooding that previously provided sediments critical to the healthy growth of wetlands has been virtually eliminated by construction of massive levees that channel the river for nearly 2000 kilometers; sediment carried by the river is now discharged far from the coast, thereby depriving wetlands of vital sediment. In addition, throughout the wetlands, an extensive system of dredged canals and flood-control structures, constructed to facilitate hydrocarbon exploration and production as well as commercial and recreational boat traffic, has enabled salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to intrude brackish and freshwater wetlands. Moreover, forced drainage of the wetlands to accommodate development and agriculture also contribute to wetlands deterioration and loss.

This is not a Republican or Democratic issue.  The GOP governor, Bobby Jindal, has at least made the right noises about investing in the reversal of the coastal erosion.  However the effort is going to require significant federal funds to turn the tide.  Maybe even as much as a month in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Houma are trying to relocate their communities to higher water, though they are woefully underfunded for this effort.  If anyone can contact the Obama campaign in LA to see if his donor list could be used for this effort, that would be awesome.  

I’ll have more later this week…

The Chitimacha Face Another Storm

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This is a cross-post of something I just did over on Daily Kos.  One of the people there suggested I post it here….

Hurricane Gustav is headed for Louisiana, and, while a lot of attention is going to be paid to New Orleans, there are other communities that will be sorely affected.  One is the Chitimacha tribe, located mostly in Terrebonne and St. Mary’s parishes south of New Orleans.  

I did a spring break service trip with a bunch of college kids in 2006 with Mennonite Disaster Services.  MDS worked with the tribal leaders to prioritize families and we did everything from roof work to tearing out and installing new installation under double-wide manufactured homes.  It was fulfilling work and the people showed us great hospitality.  

The Chitimacha are one of two tribes native to Louisiana (the other is the Houma).  For centuries they have farmed, fished and survived hurricanes:

Hurricanes blew; floods came. When it was over, they shoveled the mud from their homes and shrugged. They knew the Mississippi delta’s vast marshes, swamps and hummocks blocked all but the worst storm surge coming off the Gulf of Mexico.  When the water receded, they climbed back into their shrimp and oyster boats and went back to work.

However, this has changed due to erosion:

Today, most of the natural barriers have gone. And the traditional communities along the edge of the bayou have become like the frigate birds: a warning of what inland communities will face soon.

The communities here are dying as old-timers pass on and people move away. Those who stay are being forced to raise their homes two stories off the ground as insurance from flooding.

The decline began nearly 100 years ago, when engineers blocked the Mississippi from flowing into the delta. Without the river’s replenishing sediment, the delta started disappearing. Today, 20,000 acres a year sink below the water.

Another 138,000 acres may have been lost just last year as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey report.

“It’s all completely wiped out,” said Wenceslaus Billiot, Naquin’s neighbor and brother-in-law. “If we get a 30-foot wave there ain’t nothing to stop it. Not like in the old day.”

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Nowadays, the people in this area are forced to put their homes up on stilts, as the flood waters from storms such as Rita will bring in 3-6 feet of water in places that would have been high and dry in the 1960’s.

Forty yards from Naquin’s and Billiot’s front doors is water; in the 1960s it was land.

Today, fishermen catch black-tipped sharks where cows grazed in the 1960s.

While experts debate whether the sharks foretell the death of the delta and the communities that rely on the water for a living, there is little debate that the isolated communities on the fringes of the Louisiana bayou are barely clinging on. Their problems are mishmash of economic and natural factors.

But if nothing is done to repair the delta, it will not matter. The land Naquin and Billiot live on may also disappear below the water, a casualty of raging storms and human meddling.

The tribe has lived on Isle de Jean Charles, off Pointe-aux-Chenes, near the end of solid land in Terrebonne, for about 150 years. When the two men were growing up, the island’s houses only flooded during the very worst of storms.

A distant storm like Hurricane Rita, which passed 150 miles west offshore last year, wouldn’t have been a problem, they said. As Rita passed, however, the water rose a foot above Naquin’s dining room table.

Now, he is moving across the street to a new home raised up two stories. It is his first concession to flooding.

Next door, Billiot has raised his house twice. After Hurricane Andrew struck the area in 1992, he raised it a couple of feet; he raised it to 6 feet after Lily struck in 2003. Rita’s flooding was the worst Billiot has seen. It came up to the last step below his veranda.

In fact, the delta’s devolutionary time line is recorded by the stilts under the houses.

The oldest houses often sit on concrete stilts, 2 feet off the ground. Median-aged houses, perhaps 30 years old, sit on 3- or 4-foot stilts. The newest homes sometimes rest on stilts up to two stories off the ground.

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The tribes face several problems.  First, they are often ignored:

“It’s heartbreaking, all the stories, everything our people are going through,” said Brenda Dardar-Robichaux, principal chief of the United Houma Nation, the largest Indian tribe in the state. Robichaux estimates most of the tribe’s 15,000 members were affected by both storms.

The Houma tribe has battled for federal recognition for more than 20 years. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has coordinated relief efforts among the six federally recognized tribes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. But many of the regional tribes — including all those based in Terrebonne and Lafourche — are in dire straits because they lack a connection to the federal government.

“We are an Indian tribe here that is falling through the cracks,” said Robichaux. “Nobody has made contact with us except the native media. Everything we are doing has been a grassroots effort, and it’s taken weeks to get this far with the help of many volunteers and private donations. We’re basically doing it on our own.”

Also, they fear that in the face of yet another storm, they will lose their identity:

Kirby Verret, a Houma tribal councilman from Dulac, said some of the elder fishermen will try to rebuild because their livelihoods are built around the basics — shrimp, crab and oysters — and the economy cannot support teaching them new trades. Still, he wonders if the back-to-back hurricanes may prove too much for some Indian families to overcome.

Besides the flooding, chemical leaks and filthy water facing Indians across the southeast, residents who opt to rebuild in Plaquemines, St. Bernard and lower Terrebonne also must cope with decades of coastal erosion that has obliterated thousands of acres of lush marsh and wetlands that once shielded them from storms.

There are essentially two ways to proceed.  One is to try to get the area incorporated into the hurricane protection umbrella that is being developed for New Orleans.  A levy system has been in the works since the 1990’s, but has not received funding.  $30 million was recently released by the state for the project, but it is estimated to cost at least $1 billion.

The other option is to relocate to higher ground.

Michael Dardar wants to rebuild in Boothville, but his young children are not following suit. Plaquemines Parish leaders estimate the homes of 16,000 people have been too damaged to live in, including all the settlements in the lower-lying areas. After decades of living in a one-block radius of each other, the possibility of his close-knit family separating has Dardar thinking big.

Before Katrina struck, the tribal council that oversees the United Houma Nation’s affairs was pursuing the idea of purchasing large tracts of elevated land that would be ideal for relocating low-lying Indian families to a more secure community.

Now, the idea that once seemed like a fantasy is now a necessity. The tribal council has made the goal of securing land its mission this year, and hopes are that money can be fund-raised to purchase a tract for the tribe, which never had a reservation because of its lack of federal recognition.

The elevated land would be an ideal place for elders such as Oxcelia and Mark Naquin of Isle de Jean Charles, a French-speaking couple whose home flooded for the first time after Hurricane Rita. The pair is reluctant to leave the island where they both grew up, but they are tired of fending for themselves in a village that floods whenever the tides are high and wind strong. Complicating matters is the fact that the Naquins were denied an education decades ago, and today they cannot speak English well enough to discuss their problems with the American Red Cross or fill out paperwork requesting relief.

It is elders like the Naquins who the younger generation of Indian leaders must consider, said Thomas Dardar, a tribal councilman for United Houma Nation. He said the tribe owes it to ancestors who settled Terrebonne’s coastal villages to locate a new piece of land for Indian families.

“When the coast is devastated, this land would help keep the community together,” said Dardar.

Michael Dardar, historian for the tribe, said Houma Indians don’t have a choice. Without federal recognition and a reservation — two key components to fostering community ties — tribal members will fight a losing battle for their survival.

“We have to commit to the battle to survive as a nation, to keep our community together,” he said. “We owe it to our elders, our leaders in the past who settled along Bayou Terrebonne and strengthened our community ties. We owe it to our children.”

Sadly, none of this has had time to develop.  Right now, if Gustav continues on its track, the parish faces a massive  storm surge.  This will be worse than Rita and will have a serious impact on the tribes.

If you are interested in helping out, the Mennonite Disaster Service is a real quality organization that has good roots in the area.  Their website for both donations and volunteering after the storms has moved through is http://www.mds.mennonite.net/ They also have been doing work in New Orleans proper.

If you want to help the tribes out with donations, see http://www.chitimacha.gov/ or http://www.unitedhoumanation.org/

Otherwise, please have them in your thoughts and prayers…

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