Today we’ll revisit Louisiana’s history, this time from the point of view of the American natives known as the Houmas.
Closely related to the Chotcaw tribe, the Houmas are first mentionned in the journals of late 17th century French explorers such as Cavelier de la Salle, who had been mentioned earlier. One noteworthy story prior to their meeting with their new visitors has the Houmas settling a conflict against a rival tribe by marking their hunting grounds with a tall and red pole that will eventually become the city of Baton Rouge’s namesake.
During the Seven Years’ War, the Houmas were amongst the native American tribes that threw in their lot with the French side of the conflict, and following its defeat they emigrated to the southern parts of Louisiana, taking eventually refuge in the bayous, leaving their old hunting grounds to the colonists. A fair share of Louisiana’s cities, including the appropriately named Houma city, have kept some faint traces of the land’s former inhabitants.
From there on, the fate of the tribe remains sketchy even today. The Houmas splintered into multiple, isolated settlements during their exodus and through the nineteenth century. Combined by the fact that their original language had been progressively replaced by their own interpretation of creole French, the discrimination and diseases they faced like many of their fellow American natives, the possibility that the Houmas of old had died out during these troubled times has yet to be proven untrue.
Regardless of what truly happened, nowadays the United Houma Nation aims to preserve their legacy by revitalizing their native language and, for the last forty years, by petitioning the Bureau of Indian Affairs to grant them federal recognition as a tribe, but so far the Bureau remains uncertain if the current Houmas are truly descended from the historical tribe and has turned their demands down.
Even the near future for the Houmas is not looking very bright :global warming, industrialization and reckless construction of artificial canals have severely flooded the bayous and wetlands that are vital to the tribe’s lifestyle. Scientists estimate that if nothing is done, in less than twenty years the Houmas will have no choice but to leave their lands behind once again.
In spite of this bleak-looking future, the Houmas soldier on and continue to try to ingrate with modern society without losing their roots and traditions. You can find and follow some their activities in the United Houma Nation site.
By Cyril GARNIER