This weekend we got to spend some time resting and relaxing in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, which is a little ways northeast of Lafayette. On our last day we headed out to Montegut to visit with the Chairman of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe, Donald Dardar, and learn about the coastal land loss that Louisiana is experiencing.
Before meeting with Donald, we met with a couple who work in Bayou Blue and fight to protect the land that is rapidly disappearing. Dick and Kris told us a little bit about the Pointe-au-Chien tribe’s battle to be federally recognized by a system that requires written records, often from people whose entire histories have been passed down orally from generation to generation. How can the government expect them to suddenly produce written records dating back generations? After we learned the personal history of the tribe we were off to meet Donald and experience the land loss first hand.
The first thought I had when we boarded the boat and headed out to the bayou, was just how beautiful it was.
But as we continued on our tour, we quickly learned that the beauty we were marveling at came at a steep price for the surrounding community. Every few minutes Donald would slow the boat down and point to something off to the left or to the right. He showed us an old cemetery that had all but disappeared into the water, an old cattle gate that was sliding off the bank into the water, and last but not least, a sacred ground with the most beautiful oak tree barely hanging onto the edge. Dick and Kris explained to us that as oil and gas pipelines are sent through the bayou, channels are dug to direct the pipes, then it’s the responsibility of the oil companies to close up those channels, however they never do. This causes the salt water to flow through the channels, widening them and killing all the plants that are instrumental in keeping the bayou flourishing.
They told us that in order to get grants to hopefully stop and reverse the cycle before it’s too late, they have to frame their work as helping to preserve the history of the community. If they mention anything about undoing the work of the oil companies, or anything about the effects the pipelines have on climate change, they will get denied. Because it’s the oil companies who elect the people who make the decisions.
Both Dick and Kris said a few things that have been stuck in my head since we left. As we came out into the water Dick pointed out some old dead trees and said that he calls them “ghost trees” but someone in his congregation vehemently refers to them as “death trees”.
I truly can’t imagine what the people who have lived here their whole lives and have slowly watched their land disappear, feel on a daily basis. This place that has meant so much to them and their families before them is dying before their eyes and in most cases they are unable to save it.
As Kris was telling us a little bit more about their work to get funding she said “the big guys always hate the little guys”. The YAV program has called us to examine the systemic challenges of power and how we see it unfold during our year. It was, and still is, tremendously hard to imagine that in the eyes of these companies, their profit means more than the livelihood on these people and this beautiful bayou.
I’ll leave you all with a quote from former Archbishop Elias Chacour of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth, and Galilee: “We belong to the land. We identify with the land, which has been treasured, cultivated, and nurtured by countless generations of ancestors. The land is so holy, so sacred, to us because we have given it our sweat and blood. We are at one with our land, and part of us dies when we must be separated from it.”