Oil Spill May Spell Disaster for Atakapa Indian Tribe

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Among the many terrible outcomes that we’re just starting to see stem from the Deep Horizon oil spill, perhaps “cultural genocide” is one of the most devastating. The Audubon Society’s blog, The Perch, reports that livelihood of the Atakapa tribe, a small group of American Indian families living at the mouth of the Mississippi in a village only accessible by boat, is now threatened. Writer Justin Nobel explains:

This is Grand Bayou Village, home to the Atakapa-Ishak Indians, a dark-skinned tribe that once occupied southeast Texas and south Louisiana but now occupies only this community. There are ten families left only a small group still residing in the area, living mostly off the oysters, shrimp and fish they draw from the marshes, their homes only reachable by boat. This is the edge of the edge.

The Atakapa have survived smallpox, Manifest Destiny and a millennium of hurricanes, but the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which represents a complete unknown, is the scariest threat of all, says Rosina Philippe, the tribe’s de facto matriarch. Hundreds of years ago her tribe was driven from the lakeshores, river valleys and coasts they inhabited to this remote spindle of marsh. The ecosystem here is in jeopardy, but there is literally nowhere left to go. “We’re looking at the potential for cultural genocide,” said Philippe.

UPDATE: National Geographic news has filmed a video about the tribe’s plight. Watch it here.

Photo: Rosina Philippe, by Justin Nobel via The Perch