Similarities between tribes and the 9th Ward
Cedric Sunray Native American Times, September 6th 2005
The word tragedy can hardly signify the extent of the pain being suffered by many in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While America comes to grips with the enormity of the despair, people, many of them black, in the previously unheard of 9th Ward of New Orleans (one of the country’s most impoverished ghettos), already understand the touch, taste and sound of generations of poverty. A poverty created by a very real caste system, which exists here in the United States of America. And Indians are no exception. Indian Country has it’s own 9th Ward of faceless individuals and families who have been some of the hardest hit over the course of this past week. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) won’t be assisting them anytime soon. The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) won’t be shipping supplies their way. And by all current accounts, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has also left them out of the loop. The reason: federal recognition. The United Houma Nation in Southeastern Louisiana and the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians located just north of the City of Mobile, Alabama have been forgotten. The United Houma Nation will not receive final word on their petition before the Bureau of Acknowledgement and Research (BAR) until September 2006 and the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians pending bill HR3526 is currently being reviewed in Washington D.C. Though forgotten in legal terms. Poverty hasn’t forgotten them. Racism hasn’t forgotten them. Help, it seems, has. While the federal government and national Indian organizations intent on assisting federal Indian tribes-many of whom need little assistance-send money and supplies from one casino wealthy southeastern tribe to another, the United Houma Nation’s eastern territory sits submerged under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Homes, vehicles, personal mementos and their traditional lands have disappeared. From Boothville in Placquemines Parish to New Orleans, Houma Indians have had their lives turned completely upside down. When the phone rang last Wednesday my heart was in my stomach. My Aunt Dove was calling me to let me know that they had escaped New Orleans and made it many miles north to Clinton, Louisiana. Her beloved pets had not. Many of her irreplaceable photos of tribal history and family had remained as well. She was all right though shaken. The previous evenings had been filled with emotion and non-stop phone call attempts by my wife and I. Two days later,the Houma’s Vice Principal Chief Michael Dardar would call. He and his family had also escaped. His words to me were simple. “There is nothing left down the bayou. Our home is gone. All the people home is gone.” News from the MOWA reservation, though better, wasn’t that great either. Tribal citizens had extensive roof and water damage. No electricity or phone service for a week meant no edible food in refrigerators or contact with the outside. Our tribal school, they told me, had been closed since the hurricane struck. Needed repairs are upcoming. The MOWA Choctaw and United Houma Nation are one and the same. As communities of primarily impoverished and identifiable Indian people, we have never had the best of what America has to offer. The prosperity parade doesn’t march down the roads of our communities. And neither will assistance. Our lack of federal recognition has placed us at the mercy of federal bureaucrats and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We are the neglected of the neglected. You see, it is easy to forget about people, when you marginalize them and pretend they no longer exist. Just ask the people in New Orleans’s 9th Ward.
Cedric Sunray is an enrolled tribal citizen of the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians and has numerous family members among the United Houma Nation of Louisiana. He is employed as a Cherokee Language Teacher and Coach at Tahlequah High School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma