Louisiana tribes fight to sustain their foodways as the ocean rises

In Louisiana, rising sea levels are threatening the traditional foodways of tribes that for hundreds of years have found their sustenance on the land and in the water, says Barry Yeoman in FERN’s latest story, “Reclaiming Native Ground,” in partnership with The Lens and Gravy, the podcast of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

A few decades ago, Pointe-au-Chien “tribal members fed themselves well — with seafood, of course, but also with the livestock they raised, the fruits and vegetables they planted, and the marsh hens they extricated from their fur traps. They hunted for turtle and alligator, too, and gathered medicinal plants from the land,” says Yeoman. But then the tides, driven higher by climate change, started to nibble away at the islands.

“The area immediately around Terrebonne Bay, which includes Pointe-au-Chien, went from 10 percent water in 1916 to 90 percent in 2016, according to geographer Rebekah Jones, a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University,” says Yeoman.

With fewer places to put a garden or livestock and less terrain to forage for wild plants, the tribe turned to processed foods. As the water rose, so did their rates of diabetes and cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, the fish that they had long harvested from the sea were hurt by the BP oil spill in 2010 and the destruction of wetlands, where many species hatch their young.

But the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, like other native groups in the area, is determined to maintain its food sovereignty in the face of environmental damage. The tribe is looking at plans to build hoophouses for seedlings, plant gardens on stilts, and to electronically document its traditional knowledge around foraging and farming.

“That effort might inform all of us about how to feed ourselves during these times of environmental stress,” says Yeoman.

Listen to the full podcast here.