At Intersections 2016 in Park City, we held our second annual IGNITE! Community Pitchfest awards. IGNITE! was developed as a fun way to share the exciting projects, ideas and activities that our members are implementing nationwide. IGNITE! finalists are selected through a nominations process and invited to make a short presentation in front of Intersections conference attendees, who then vote on their favorite idea. This year’s IGNITE! winner, Chief Albert Naquin of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, shared the inspiring story of his tribe’s community led coastal resettlement efforts.
Isle de Jean Charles is facing an environmental crisis driven by coastal erosion, commercial dredging, dam and levee construction, and rising tides. In the lasts one-hundred years, thousands of miles of coastal wetlands have subsided. In the early 1800s, the island was settled by a Frenchman named Jean Charles Naquin, who moved to the land after being disowned by his family for marrying Native American, Pauline Verdin. The area wasn’t officially considered habitable until 1876 when the State of Louisiana began selling plots of land in the Terrebonne parish where Isle de Jean Charles is located. In the 1970’s, environmental and artificial conditions began to cause widespread erosion, forcing many community and tribal members to relocate to surrounding areas in search of a better situation on higher ground.
The residents of Isle de Jean Charles are being disproportionately affected by the growing environmental crisis, the tribal lands they’ve occupied for generations are rapidly disappearing. Erosion and displacement continuously threaten cultural tradition and the community’s ability to maintain a subsistence economy. Various area relocation and conservation efforts have tried to address Louisiana’s disappearing wetland issues, but until recently they’ve all proven to be insufficient to needs of the Isle and its people.
In January 2016, after years of worsening conditions, displacement, and failed plans for relocation, the tribe was awarded a $48 million dollar grant from HUD and the Rockefeller Foundation’s $1 Billion dollar National Disaster Resilience Competition. Alongside the State of Louisiana and the Lowlander Center, the tribe is developing plans to relocate and design a resilient community model that allows for both cultural and environmental sustainability.
The Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Choctaw Indians joined the Grounded Solutions Network in 2016 to learn more about permanently affordable housing options provided by the community land trust model, to inform their future plans for community development. They hope to work with Grounded Solutions to build capacity through community training, technical assistance, and business planning to make the project sustainable and protect the legacy of the tribe throughout the relocation project.
Unfortunately, the problem of environmentally charged displacement extends a lot further than the Louisiana coastline. Project partners are working to develop replicable solutions and policies to aid other communities facing similar resettlement issues. Project representatives are meeting in Hawaii with members of the White House Council on Environmental Equality to present solutions to policy issues around environmental resettlement, with hopes that carbon sequestration funds can be allocated to purchase land for future climate-driven relocation crises across the country.
Visit the resources below to learn more about this project: