Louisiana Indians in the 21st Century

By Dayna Bowker Lee


Louisiana is home to more American Indian tribes than any other southern state. Four federally recognized sovereign nations, as well as 10 tribes recognized by the state of Louisiana and four tribes without official status, enrich our state with their history, culture, and artistic traditions. From the coastal marshes to the piney woods, from the bayous to the hills, Louisiana's tribal people maintain traditional values, carry on ancient arts, and promote multicultural understanding. This article provides a brief introduction to each tribe and links to resources. The federally recognized tribes are discussed first, followed by those who are recognized by the State of Louisiana, and finally those who have no official status but who maintain a tribal identity.

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology maintains a list contacts for several Louisiana Native American.

The Sovereign Nation of the Chitimacha

The Chitimacha Nation is the only federally recognized tribe to still occupy a part of its aboriginal lands in present-day Louisiana. Called "the most powerful tribe of the northern Gulf coast west of Florida" (Swanton 1952:203), the Chitimacha once occupied the coastal plain from the Atchafalaya Basin in the west to the lower Mississippi River drainage in the east. The Chitimacha reservation, placed in trust by the United States in 1919, is located on Bayou Teche in Charenton, Louisiana (Lee 2006).

Chitimacha weavers Christine and Pauline Paul with a rivercane mat, Little Trout design, ca. 1930. Photo: Courtesy of Cammie Henry Research Center, Northwestern State University.

Basketry made from split river or swamp cane (arundinaria gigantea ) is a hallmark of Chitimacha culture and tradition. Unusual among Southeastern basketry traditions, the primarily zoomorphic designs on Chitimacha basketry bear specific names, many still remembered from a language no longer in common usage. Designs like nish-tu wa-ki (alligator entrails), tcik ka-ni (blackbird's eyes), and tcish mish (worm track) reflect the natural world of early weavers "who first captured these impressions in cane" (Gregory and Webb 1975). Chitimacha basketry is so conservative that a basket produced at the turn of the century is indistinguishable from a similar example made almost 75 years later (Duggan 2000:19-20). This remarkable consistency may be attributed in part to the careful curation of heirloom pattern baskets passed down within the families of weavers. Only three colors—yellow, red, and black—are used in Chitimacha basketry, and only after World War II did aniline dyes virtually replace dyes made from dock root and black walnut. Chitimacha weavers are noted for their double woven or double walled baskets, as well as their fine, bowl-shaped baskets with tightly pulled-in corners (Lee 2006).

Chitimacha rivercane weavers John Paul and Scarlett Darden with Melissa Darden-Brown, 2005. Photo: Dayna Lee, Louisiana Regional Folklife Program Collection, NSU.

Through the late 20th century, the Chitimacha maintained a traditional economy based on trapping, fishing, gathering moss, and farming. A few men cut timber or worked in local sugar mills, and weavers continued to make and sell baskets (Hoover 1975:49). Basketry remained not only an important expression of tribal identity, but was a reliable source of income for Chitimacha families. Although the Chitimacha were consolidated around their Bayou Teche village by the 19th century, they continued to integrate the New Orleans market into their annual cycle of social and economic activities (Usner 1992:103).

Federal recognition in 1971 provided some services and small improvements for the community; but conditions improved rapidly after 1993, when the tribe transformed its small bingo hall into a successful casino. This new revenue base provided the means to improve facilities, roads, and tribal housing. In addition, the cultural heritage of the tribe was addressed through a proactive cultural program that includes a tribal historic preservation office, language immersion classes, a tribal museum, and a project to promote cane regrowth on tribal lands (Lee 2006).

Today as in the past, Chitimacha basketry embodies tribal heritage and cultural history for both community members and outsiders. Basketry no longer serves as the primary means of support for Chitimacha weavers, however, and employment and family obligations limit opportunities to gather and process cane and make baskets. Still, Chitimacha weavers continue to preserve treasured pattern baskets and hold back examples of their own work to be passed down to future generations. A mainstay of tribal economy and social identity throughout recorded history, cane basketry remains a vital tradition in today's Chitimacha community

The Sovereign Nation of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana

The Coushatta Tribe extends between Elton and Kinder in Allen Parish, Louisiana, with some Coushatta (also called Koasati) living with their Alabama relatives on the Alabama-Coushatta reservation near Livingston, Texas. The tribal center is located in Elton. The Coushatta are among the immigrant nations who crossed the Mississippi River from their Alabama homelands after 1763. Despite the close association of the Coushatta and Alabama people, the Coushatta maintain a culture and language separate from their relatives. They also preserve their matrilineal clan system, a strong storytelling tradition, and extensive knowledge of native plants. The tribe was recognized as a sovereign nation by the U.S. government in 1973 (CTL 2012; Gregory 2006).

Coushatta Indians

Basketry has been an important economic resource in the Coushatta community since the 19th century. Baskets were sold and traded locally by individual weavers until 1965, when tribal weavers organized and established a crafts cooperative to market and sell their baskets. Although a few weavers maintain the tradition of split cane basketry, Coushatta weavers are renowned for their coiled, longleaf (pinus palustris) pinestraw basketry. This tradition seemingly evolved from an older Koasati tradition of coiled basketry in which various native grasses including wire grass, pahé, found in the pine forests of the upper Gulf Coast, were utilized. These older baskets were sewn with strips of the inner bark of the dogwood or mulberry trees. Although cane basketry predates most other basketry traditions in the Southeast, coiled basketry is identified by Coushatta elders as one of their oldest artistic traditions (Gregory 2006).

Longleaf pine is today preferred by Coushatta weavers who coil and sew bundles of pine needles together using a palm fiber called raffia that is purchased commercially and can be left natural or colorfully dyed. Various stitches including a lazy stitch and wheat stitch are used. Basket forms include bowl-shaped, trays, or lidded baskets; but among the most highly prized by collectors are the effigy baskets. Turtles, frogs, birds, skunks, crawfish, turkeys, and countless other animals are brought to life by gifted Coushatta weavers in these beautiful and intricate pinestraw baskets.

Besides basketry, other Coushatta arts have been carried forward. Tribal men still make blowguns, bows, and wooden toys, and a few women make traditional clothing. The tribe put away their ancient songs and dances in the early 20th century when they accepted Christianity, but a tribal dance group formed in the 1970s allows young people to participate in intertribal dances. The tribe now holds an annual powwow at the Coushatta Casino in Kinder, Louisiana. Ancient stories like "How the Koasati Got Their Name" and "The First Meeting of Indians and Europeans" are still told by elders to convey important cultural and historical information to each new generation.

The Coushatta Casino opened in 1995 to become the second largest private employer in the state of Louisiana. Casino revenue has allowed the Coushatta to support health, education, social services, and cultural programs for tribal people. The tribe received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation's Endangered Languages grant to document and preserve Koasati language, and a state-of-the-art cultural center is under construction (CTL 2012). Through tribal support and individual efforts, the Coushatta preserve traditional culture for future generations.

The Jena Band of Choctaw Indians

Choctaw people began to cross the Mississippi River in large numbers after Spain acquired Louisiana in 1763. Several permanent Choctaw villages were established in Louisiana by the early 19th century, with subsequent episodes of westward migration prompted by Indian Removal, the Civil War, and poor economic conditions in Mississippi. Small groups of Choctaw settled on Pearl River and above Lake Pontchartrain, later consolidating into the Bayou Lacombe community in St. Tammany Parish. Choctaw women bartered produce, game, hides, medicinal plants, and baskets, both locally and in urban markets like those of New Orleans. From cane basketry "they derived a good profit" (D. Rouquette 1850, quoted in Usner 1998:116).

Jena Choctaw Indians

Choctaw settlements also formed in the Ouachita and Red River regions, including one village established before 1807 near Catahoula Lake (Abel 1922:24). After Indian Removal, Choctaw from Mississippi joined or settled near this small village in what was then Catahoula Parish. These conservative Choctaw families remained unnoticed by all but their closest neighbors well into the 20th century.

The Dawes Act of 1887, designed to break up tribally held territories into individual land allotments, resulted in the second removal of Choctaw people from the Southeast. Part of the Trout Creek band made the difficult journey to enroll as full blood Choctaw in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Two migrations to Choctaw Nation in the early 20th century decimated the population of the Trout Creek community. The population was revitalized around 1919, however, when an extended family with ties to the Bayou Lacombe Choctaw settled among the families near the growing town of Jena (Mary Jackson Jones, Personal Communication, 20 September 2002; Lee 2006).

The small group in what became LaSalle Parish maintained close contact with their relatives in Mississippi and Oklahoma, but remained for the most part in cultural isolation in Louisiana. Choctaw men sharecropped or worked in the local timber industry; a few women cleaned or cooked for local families. Wage labor income was supplemented by the sale and trade of tanned deer hides, game, produce, medicinal plants, and split cane baskets. Although social and economic segregation limited opportunities for the Choctaw, these factors contributed to the preservation of traditional leadership, beliefs, material culture, and language throughout most of the 20th century (Lee 2007).

Men in the community continued to tan deer hides and sell or trade them locally. The brain-tanned and corn cob-smoked hides are particularly supple and highly prized, and the practice has been passed down to the present generation. Cane basketry, however, was not maintained in the community after World War II. Choctaw women were able to secure wage-paying jobs, giving them fewer economic incentives and less time to make baskets. Still, the tradition of cane basketry remained in the collective memory of the Choctaw community, and the few surviving heirloom baskets were cherished. Cane basketry was revived in 1990s and is once again an important tradition in the community (Lee 2006).

Traditional chiefly leadership was maintained until 1974 when the Tribal Chief was elected for the first time. The Jena Band of Choctaw Indians was the last Louisiana tribe to be acknowledged as a sovereign nation by the U.S. government in 1995. In an effort to provide for the economic future of its people, the tribe has engaged in several ventures including a small casino. Cultural programming remains a priority of the tribe and the Choctaw people as well. An intertribal powwow is held annually at the tribal complex in Jena, and tribal workshops and classes make language, basketry, hide tanning, and the recently revived pottery traditions accessible to all tribal members.

Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana

The Tunica were located in northwestern Mississippi when first encountered by Europeans. Known as highly successful entrepreneurs, they traded salt, horses, and other goods widely across the Southeast. After French colonists settled in Louisiana, the Tunica moved west across the Mississippi River to take advantage of new trade opportunities, eventually settling in present Avoyelles Parish. The Biloxi were located on the Gulf Coast near present Biloxi, Mississippi, and were the first indigenous people encountered by French colonists in 1698. Like many of the small nations, the Biloxi crossed the river into Louisiana after 1763 and settled in small groups from the coast to the Red River valley. One group settled near the Tunica and eventually merged with that group despite their differences in language and culture. Today the majority of Tunica-Biloxi live primarily on a reservation in Marksville, Louisiana (Kniffen et al. 1987; Lee 2001).

Tunica-Biloxi Indians Merlin Pierite and Joe Pierite, ca. 1930 with stickball raquets. Photo: Frank Speck, Gregory Collection, Northwestern State University.

The Tunica were friendly with the French and later Spanish colonials and formed lucrative trade relations that allowed them to acquire vast wealth in the form of European trade goods. As in other Southeastern traditions, Tunica of the elite class were buried along with much of their material wealth. In the 1960s, over 100 Tunica burials were discovered in West Feliciana Parish and haphazardly excavated by a local pothunter. The colonial-era wealth of the Tunica was evident in the fine European ceramics, guns, kettles, bells, beads, and other artifacts he attempted to sell to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. Because they were not recognized as a sovereign nation by the federal government, the Tunica-Biloxi were not allowed to take part in the ensuing litigation to determine ownership of what would come to be called the Tunica Treasure; but all that changed in 1981, when the tribe was acknowledged as a sovereign nation by the federal government (Brain 1979; Doming 1983).

Tunica-Biloxi pinestraw rattle basket by Anna Mae Juneau, 1985. Photo: Michael Fontenot, Louisiana Regional Folklife Program Collection, NSU.

In 1985, the tribe was awarded ownership of the artifacts that belonged to their ancestors. The landmark decision that restored the Tunica Treasure to the tribe set the stage for the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), federal legislation that protects and provides for repatriation of tribal artifacts and human remains. In 1989, the tribe finally took possession of the collection that had been stored by the state. The poor condition of the artifacts led to the creation of a tribal conservation program that has restored and preserved almost 80 percent of the collection (TBTL 2007). A selection of the Tunica Treasure is displayed in the museum on the reservation.

Tunica-Biloxi artisans in the last century continued to make cypress drums, dolls dressed in tribal clothing, coiled pinestraw baskets, and beadwork. With tribal languages remembered by only a handful of elders, anthropologist H.F. "Pete" Gregory and Choctaw basketmaker and scholar Claude Medford, Jr., recorded songs and stories in both the Tunica and Biloxi languages. Working with surviving elders and with these recordings made between the 1960s and the 1980s, the Pierite Family Singers have been able to reintroduce tribal songs and stories in both the Tunica and Biloxi languages that they share with the tribe and with the public. An intertribal powwow hosted by the tribe each May brings together Tunica-Biloxi and intertribal traditions.

In 1994, the Tunica-Biloxi opened the first land-based casino in Louisiana that has become the largest employer in Avoyelles Parish. The casino enterprise allowed the tribe to become economically self-sufficient and provide social services, learning opportunities, and cultural programs for tribal members. Today the Tunica Treasure collection is housed in the Tunica-Biloxi Cultural and Educational Resources Center, a state-of-the-art facility that includes a library, conservation center, distance-learning center, conference facilities, tribal offices, and museum on the tribal reservation in Marksville. Tribal members continue to make pinestraw baskets and beadwork, some of which is marketed through the Center's gift shop.

Adai Caddo Indians of Louisiana

The Adaes Powwow, 2000. Photo: Rhonda Gauthier, Louisiana Regional Folklife Program Collection, NSU.

The Adai were distant relatives of the Caddo people who occupied northwestern Louisiana until they were forced to cede their land to the U.S. government in 1835. A Spanish mission established near the Adai village in 1717 was briefly abandoned two years later; but the mission was reoccupied in 1721 with the founding of Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Los Adaes Presidio, placed to oppose the fort established by the French at Natchitoches in 1714. For much of the 18th century, the Adai lived near and intermarried with Spanish and mestizo (Spanish-native) soldiers from Los Adaes. After the presidio closed in 1773, the Adai remained settled near the old presidio in their native territory and engaged in family farming and ranching.

Recognized as the Adai Caddo Indians by the state of Louisiana, the tribe still resides in its ancestral location in rural Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. A tribal cultural center and tribal headquarters are located in the Spanish Lake community not far from Los Adaes State Historic Site. An intertribal powwow held annually in October brings together intertribal and Caddo dance traditions.

Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation

The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Confederation of Muskogees is an alliance of three ancestrally related but independent state-recognized tribes located in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. An overarching governing body made up of representatives from each of the three tribal communities works together to achieve common goals, but each community has a separate tribal government, history, and traditions that are related but unique (BCCM 2012; Swanton 1911:290-292).

Bayou Lafourche Band

This BCCM community consolidated along lower Bayou Lafourche in the 19th century. Like other tribes who inhabited the coastal bayous and marshes, tribal members engaged in a subsistence economy supported by family gardens, local plant resources, trapping, hunting, and fishing. They lived in houses built of cypress, palmetto, and bousillage (a type of mud chinking) and travelled the marsh and bayous in wooden work boats and pirogues. Successive hurricanes over the past century have drastically reconfigured the cultural landscape of the Bayou Lafourche Band. Tribal members are today located throughout lower Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, but they remain connected through family relations and tribal activities.

Grand Caillou/Dulac Band

This BCCM community is located primarily along lower Bayou Terrebonne and Bayou Grand Caillou where the tribal community consolidated from small native groups who intermarried and merged together in the 19th century. Many people lived year round on houseboats instead of on the cheniers (ridgelines) along the bayous and engaged primarily in hunting, trapping, and fishing. Not all tribal members had their own boats, so many trapped and fished on shares or worked on shrimp platforms and in seafood processing plants. Others cut sugarcane or cypress timber for a living. Social occasions often revolved around fishing or processing the catch, especially drying and smoking garfish to preserve it before refrigeration. This process known as "tasso-making" took several days and was a communal effort that brought together tribal families.

Contemporary tribal members still fish commercially or for subsistence. The tribe is centered in lower Terrebonne Parish, with a number of families living along Shrimper's Row at Dulac.

Isle de Jean Charles Band

Isle de Jean Charles is a narrow chenier fronting Bayou St. Jean Charles in southern Terrebonne Parish. Since the early 19th century, it has been the home of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of BCCM. Isle de Jean Charles' natives call their home "The Island." At one time, the chenier was approximately four miles wide; but today, due to repeated hurricanes and decades of erosion and saltwater intrusion, the island measures only a few hundred feet wide.

The Island was once home to about 300 people. Approximately 70 homes were occupied full time before 2005, but now only 23 Isle de Jean Charles band families remain. Homes are arranged on both sides of the bayou in a line village pattern. The oak and pecan trees that once lined the chenier formed a dense tunnel, but years of saltwater intrusion has killed most of the trees. Each home had a family garden, and large communal gardens were also common. Most folks had at least one cow and always a few chickens and pigs. The tribal economy, however, was based on trapping and fishing in a seasonal rotation of winter trapping, shrimping between March and July and again from mid-August to late fall, and oystering all year long. Some people lived in houses built of cypress and palmetto. The community had several boatbuilders, netmakers, midwives, and traiteurs and was largely self-sufficient until well after World War II (Chief Albert Naquin, personal communication, 13 June 2011).

Today, the people of the Isle de Jean Charles Band still occupy lower Terrebonne Parish, some on the Island and others in Pointe-aux-Chenes and other nearby communities. Strong traditional leadership has helped keep the tribal community strong and cohesive as the Island itself washes away.

Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb

Choctaw-Apache at Bayou Scie, ca. 1890. Photo: Rhonda Gauthier Collection.

In 1721, the Spanish founded Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Los Adaes Presidio, a fort placed to oppose the French expansion west from Natchitoches. The fort was manned by Spanish and mestizo (Spanish-native) soldiers, many of whom married women from local Caddo and Adai tribes. Many others married formerly enslaved Lipan Apache women. The fort closed in 1773 and the soldiers were ordered to move to San Antonio, but many refused and dropped off along the way in present East Texas. Others quietly returned to the area between the old fort at Los Adaes and the Sabine River where they established small communities at Ebarb and Zwolle. After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, a band of Choctaw settled in the area and merged with the Ebarb community. The Choctaw-Apache were recognized as a tribe by the State of Louisiana in 1978.

Choctaw Apache-Ebarb, front porch 2001. Photo: Dayna Lee, Louisiana Regional Folklife Program Collection, NSU.

Indo-Hispanic traditions remain strong in the contemporary community. Many families still have basalt metates brought generations ago from Mexico, once used to grind corn by hand. Tamales remain a staple food, with batches made weekly to supplement the daily diet. Wooden crosses and religious figures decorate houses inside and out, and rosaries with crosses carved from wood or antler on knotted twine are still made by a few elders. Tribal artisans make elaborate regalia for community members who dance in the annual powwow held each spring. Like the powwow, the Choctaw-Apache Tribe brings together people and traditions from the Southeast and the Southwest.

Clifton Choctaw Tribe of Louisiana

Clifton Choctaw pinestraw weavers Becky Tyler and Kathlene Thomas, 2000. Photo: Dayna Lee, Louisiana Regional Folklife Program Collection, NSU.

Deep in the piney woods of Rapides Parish, the Clifton Choctaw Tribe coalesced in the 19th century from several small family groupings scattered throughout Rapides and Natchitoches parishes. The Clifton Choctaw were recognized as a tribe by the State of Louisiana in 1979.

Tribal material culture reflects the rural, make-do economy as well as the close association of this community with the timber and turpentine industries. When first documented by anthropologists in the 1960s, community members still made their own syrup using a mule-driven mill; sewed beautiful quilts from scraps of material; tanned deer hides; made and used gourd dippers; carved wooden tools, bowls, and toys; and produced a variety of white oak baskets.

Pete Gregory and Clifton Choctaw split oak basket weaver Luther Clifton, ca. 1980. Photo: Gregory Collection.

As elders have passed on and the community has become less isolated, new artistic traditions have taken hold. White oak of the quality for basketmaking is now difficult to obtain, so coiled pinestraw basketry has become more popular with weavers. Several Clifton weavers have become master artisans in a tradition that was introduced into the community in the 1970s. Beadwork earrings, bracelets, and necklaces have also become popular tribal crafts. While artistic traditions have changed somewhat, traditional arts are still a mainstay of the Clifton Choctaw community (Kniffen, et al. 1987; Miller and Rich 1983).

Four Winds Tribe Louisiana Cherokee Confederacy

The Four Winds Tribe is made up of American Indians native to the region (Atakapas) who sought refuge in the ungoverned Neutral Strip. They were joined by Cherokee, Choctaw, and Muscogee Creek who dropped off in western Louisiana during Indian Removal in the 1830s. The confederation was recognized by the State of Louisiana in 1997. Cultural programming is a focus of the tribal community which sponsors classes in tribal arts and hosts an annual powwow each fall. The tribe is located primarily in Vernon and Beauregard Parishes (FWTLCC 2012).

Louisiana Choctaw Tribe

The Louisiana Choctaw Tribe is recognized by the State of Louisiana.

Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe

The Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe (PACIT) is located on both sides of Bayou Pointe-aux-Chenes (1) that divides Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. Approximately 350 tribal members live within the PACIT community, with about the same number residing elsewhere. The tribal community is closely related to the Isle de Jean Charles Band of BCCM, with whom many families share genealogical connections. The PACIT community was once made of several sub-communities including Fala and Les-Quien, but repeated hurricanes, coastal erosion, and saltwater intrusion have reconfigured the cultural landscape. The area that now constitutes the PACIT community was previously the upper extent of a community that stretched out into the marsh that is now for the most part open water (PACIT 2012; Tribal interviews, 2011-2012).

The community is a line village that grew up along a chenier of thick hardwoods, today diminished to only a few old-growth trees. Palmetto houses insulated with bousillage once lined the bayou, and several families lived on houseboats year round. Each homestead had a family garden and fishing was done from the shore or using wooden boats made by community members. At least two traiteurs and a midwife saw to the community's health needs until the mid-20th century. Because guns were expensive, hunting was often done with spears and blowguns. Much of the seafood and wild-caught food like oysters, clams, waterfowl, and finfish was smoked for preservation (Tribal interviews, 2011-2012).

The contemporary tribal economy is still based in large part on commercial and/or subsistence fishing and a few families maintain gardens where both food plants and medicinal plants are cultivated. Working with artisans and elders, the tribe sponsors a summer program to instruct tribal youth in palmetto basketry and old style palmetto house construction, at the same time educating them in the cultural history of the tribe.

United Houma Nation

When René-Robert Cavelier de la Salle claimed Louisiana for France in 1682, the Houma were located on the east bank of the Mississippi River near its confluence with Red River. By 1706, the tribe had been driven from that site by the Tunica and moved down the Mississippi River to settle near the confluence of Bayou Lafourche. After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the Houma retreated into the coastal marshes where they remain today. The United Houma Nation (UHN) is today located throughout southeastern Louisiana, with the majority of tribal members centered in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes. The United Houma Nation is recognized by the state of Louisiana and continues to pursue federal recognition (Lee 1997:119-120; Swanton 1911:292 295).

Houma Indian palmetto basketweaver Janie Luster, 2001. Photo: Michael Fontenot, Louisiana Regional Folklife Program Collection, NSU.

After they settled along the lower bayous and in the coastal marshes, the Houma engaged in a subsistence economy based on hunting, trapping, and fishing. Everything they needed to survive could be found close at hand. Although few still engage in trapping, almost all Houma people continue to fish either commercially or for personal consumption. Knowledge and use of local plants remains important, and individual Houma traiteurs (treaters) use plant medicines to treat illness in the community. These healing traditions are generally passed down from generation to generation within certain families.

Houma Indian Crafts

Many Houma artistic traditions are occupational; but all reflect the natural environment and utilize materials still abundant in the bayous and coastal marshes. Houma artisans continue to craft cypress pirogues, Lafitte skiffs, and other wooden boats for fishing, as well as blowguns and bows used for hunting. Woodcarvers make functional decoys and carve animals, both whimsical and beautiful, that they formerly trapped and hunted. Palmetto houses, once occupied year round, are now built for use as hunting camps. Houma weavers make baskets of dwarf palmetto ( Sabal minor) using a technique in which palmetto fronds are stripped, plaited, and stitched together. An older technique called the Houma half-hitch or Fuegian stitch was reintroduced in the 1990s. Spanish moss, once dried and processed to produce blankets and bags, is still used to make moss dolls dressed in either cloth or palmetto clothing. A more recent artistic tradition involves cleaning and dying garfish scales that are crafted into beautiful jewelry and other decorative items. Today as in the past, Houma arts evoke the natural world in which they live and work.

Talimali Band of Apalachee

Gilmer Bennett and Pete Gregory at old family home in Kisatchie Hills. Photo: Dayna Lee, Louisiana Regional Folklife Program Collection, NSU.

The Apalachee were located along and below the Florida panhandle when encountered by European explorers in the 16th century. A strong and powerful chiefdom comprised of dispersed villages and approximately 50,000 people, the Apalachee practiced agriculture and participated in the mound-building Mississippian tradition. Hostile to Spanish explorers and protective of their territory and autonomy, the Apalachee were eventually reduced by sustained conflicts and by the virgin soil diseases introduced by Europeans. After French colonists established their first major settlement at Mobile, the Apalachee relocated close by for protection against enemy nations and to take advantage of trade. Like other small nations, they crossed the Mississippi River into Louisiana after the English gained the territory in 1763. By 1764, they were settled with the Taensas and Pacana along Red River above present Alexandria (Hann 1988; Hunter 1994; Lee 2007).

The tribe prospered in its new location on a fertile bluff overlooking the river. They were successful farmers and helped support other small nations who coalesced in the same area. Having converted to Catholicism before the 18th century, the Apalachee petitioned for a priest to serve their village. The Parish of St. Luis de Appalages [ sic] was established by 1764 and itinerant priests ministered to the tribe. After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, Anglo-American plantations surrounded the Apalachee who were eventually driven off of their land. They relocated to the Kisatchie Hills in Natchitoches Parish where many remain today (Hunter 1994; Lee 2007).

The Talimali Band of Apalachee is headquartered in Libuse, Louisiana, but has members throughout Rapides, Grant, and Natchitoches parishes where tribal artisans carry on the tradition of white oak basketry. Members of the tribe participate as honored guests at activities held at the Mission San Luis Historical Park, the site of the largest Apalachee village in Florida. Secure in the knowledge of their identity and history, the Talimali Band declined to be recognized by the State of Louisiana.

Atakapa Ishak Nation

The Atakapa were located primarily along the coast of Texas and southwestern Louisiana when first encountered by Europeans. Because of their coastal location, they were accomplished fishermen who smoked much of their catch in order to preserve it. Today, two divisions of the Ishak Atakapa reside in Louisiana and Texas. The western division is centered between Port Arthur, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana. The eastern division is located in Grand Bayou in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana (Kniffen, et al. 1987).

The Grand Bayou community has been in existence for over 300 years. Remote and isolated, the community is accessible only by water. Most community members work as commercial fishermen, but all in the community depend on subsistence fishing to some degree for their daily meals. Among the tribal members are herbalists who use local plants to attend to the health needs of the community. Although the small tribal community has been reshaped by hurricanes and coastal erosion, it remains culturally strong and self-sufficient. The tribe has not pursued state recognition.

Chahta Tribe

The Chahta Tribe is centered in Slidell, Louisiana.

Louisiana Choctaw Turtle Tribe

Organized in 1996, the Louisiana Choctaw Turtle Tribe is made up of approximately 200 members of Choctaw heritage who reside in eight states.


1. The tribal name is Pointe-au-Chien (Dog Point), while the bayou and associated town is Pointe-aux-Chenes (Oak Point).


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_____. 2006 The Ties that Bind: Cane Basketry Traditions among the Chitimacha and Jena Band of Choctaw. In The Work of Tribal Hands: Southeastern Split Cane Basketry, edited by Dayna Bowker Lee and H.F. Gregory, pp. 43-72. Northwestern State University Press, Natchitoches, Louisiana.

_____.2007 The Jena Band of Choctaw. In Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Celeste Ray and Charles Reagan Wilson, eds., pp. 127-128. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

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_____. 1911. Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Bulletin 43, Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

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Dayna Bowker Lee is an anthropologist in New Orleans who specializes in Native American cultures. She was Regional Folklorist at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches from 1999 to 2008. She wrote this article in 2013 for the Louisiana Folklife Program.