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As Louisiana’s marshes erode, so does the Houma Indians way of life

Date: 07/02/15

Republished from Aljazeera, Jan 5, 2015: TERREBONNE PARISH, Louisiana — Streams of oil slid into the bayous of southeastern Louisiana after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010, damaging the marsh grasses, the wildlife and the livelihood of the 17,000-member Houma tribe.

The pollution also weakened the marshes, accelerating the rapid disappearance of coastal land that is taking the Houma Indians’ culture with it.

Now money that BP, the oil and gas company responsible for the spill, was forced to pay is beginning to flow to some groups and businesses to repair the environmental damage and protect the coast. But the Houma Indians say they haven't been compensated for the damage to the land they live on and fear they won't see funding for the protection and restoration projects they consider important.

While the marshes have been eroding for years, due to levee building, oil pipelines and climate change, the Houma say the BP spill significantly worsened the problem.

The United Houma Nation is officially recognized by the state of Louisiana but not by the federal government, making it hard for the Houma to negotiate compensation.

“The United Houma Nation reached out to BP for assistance,” said Principal Chief Thomas Dardar Jr. in a congressional hearing in 2012. But because the Houma aren’t a federally acknowledged tribe, BP said it wasn’t mandated to help, he said. A BP representative declined to comment.

And yet the Houma and several other indigenous groups in the area  — including the Grand Bayou Village, Grand Caillou/Dulac, Isle de Jean Charles and Pointe-au-Chien tribes — are faced with a startling loss.

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