11 September 2008

Gustav Media Blackout Continues; Underlying Causes Exacerbate Destruction of Houma Communities

The virtual media blackout continues with regard to the disaster wrought by Hurricane Gustav on the Gulf Coast. Brenda Dardar Robichaux, Principal Chief of the United Houma Nation, whose initial blog entries during and after the storm were shared on the Ms. Foundation blog, had this to say:
It [is] obvious that the local and national media do not consider us worth covering. Once again the United Houma Nation and its tribal citizens have been ignored and our People have been left to fend for themselves in the face of this overwhelming catastrophe.
Robichaux continues to share first-hand accounts of her efforts to reach her communities and understand the devastation they face -- not once forgetting the underlying causes:
Friday morning was the first day that I was allowed access to Isle de Jean Charles. A first responder brought me pictures the night before, but I had not yet seen the Island personally. So my husband Mike, my 11 year old daughter Felicite and I, wearing our rubber boots, headed to Isle de Jean Charles, one of the hardest hit communities. Island Road, the highway that leads to the settlement, lay covered with dead trout, drum and red fish. We parked our truck at the beginning of the Island and walked several miles to the end. The pictures did not prepare me for what I was about to see. We witnessed homes off their foundations that had floated on levees and piles of rubble that were once homes. After years of coastal erosion and without a good protection levee this community was very fragile. Hurricane Gustav showed no mercy. I became very angry that something had not been done sooner to protect the barrier islands that would have given my community a fighting chance. I remember stories told to me of how there were acres of land on which children played baseball, and pastures where horses roamed. To see the state of the Island now was overwhelming.
As Robichaux points out, years of coastal erosion have left Indigenous communities along the Gulf extremely vulnerable to storms. Government inaction is largely to blame. The Institute for Southern Studies writes,
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.
Years, centuries really, of discrimination and economic injustice, have certainly played a role, too. Last week, after visiting the destruction of Indigenous communities on one end of Isle de Jean Charles, Robichaux visited a camp, or resort, at the other end. She soon realized that its buildings hadn't sustained nearly as much damage as the more humble homes of her fellow Houma:
As we approached the end of Island, we saw a stark contrast as camps owned [by] non residents were often left totally intact, without any visual signs of damage. We met one of the camp owners on his was out who exclaimed that although the hurricane was bad he thought it was going to be a lot worse. He must have repeated those thoughts a half dozen times. I could not believe what he was telling me. NOT THAT BAD…COULD HAVE BEEN A LOT WORSE…FOR WHOM? Surely not the residents of the Island! As we continued to walk the next camp owners spoke from the balcony of his perfectly intact camp and expressed with pride how his camp has withstood the last three hurricanes without any damage because it is built with 32,000 wood screws. Our people can’t afford HOMES built with 32,000 wood screws. So we are left with homes totally destroyed and may have to consider relocating, leaving the land we love while non residents with resources can build CAMPS that will sustain hurricanes force winds and coastal erosion. Why hasn’t something been done sooner to protect our community? Is it because the Island is a poor Indian community so it doesn’t matter what happens to us?
Please visit the United Houma Nation website, whose United Houma Nation Relief Fund is a current grantee of the Ms. Foundation's Katrina Women's Response Fund, for additional eyewitness reports and photos.

Photo: Gustav Damage, 9/5/08
Credit: United Houma Nation


  1. Thank you for posting this. I had no idea the damage done in Houma. I am outraged w/the lack of info. Can I send financial donations somewhere? Charlene Smiley Crafton, Atlanta, GA cc@kbccounseling.com

  2. You can support the United Houma Nation through its web site.

    You can also make a gift to the Ms. Foundation for Women's Katrina Women's Response Fund, which provides grantmaking and technical support to the United Houma Nation and other organizations and communities impacted by Gustav.