Sea-level rise and coastal erosion are drowning tribal burial sites in South Louisiana, according to the complaint.
Continued land loss further threatens the tribes’ source of food, said Shirell Parfait-Dardar, chief of the Grand Caillou and Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians.
“It looks like our community could be gone in 20 years,” she said. “We’re not only losing our homeland. We lose so much more than that. We lose our culture. We lose our identity.”
The Louisiana tribes that filed the complaint are the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians of Louisiana; the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe; the Grand Caillou and Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha Choctaw Tribe; and the Atakapa-Ishak Chawasha Tribe of the Grand Bayou Indian Village. The Native Village of Kivalina, an Alaskan tribe, joined in the U.N. complaint.
The Louisiana tribes call Terrebonne, Lafourche and Plaquemines parishes home. But some areas where the tribes historically lived are already under water, forcing members to relocate and breaking apart their communities.
All four Louisiana tribes lack a key legal instrument to fight for their futures: federal recognition. Federally recognized tribes are viewed by the U.S. government as “domestic dependent nations” with inherent powers of self-government.
Without this status, tribes have more difficulty protecting their ancestral land, pursuing financial assistance and having a say in decision-making about coastal restoration projects, said Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe and director of the Indian Legal Clinic at Arizona State University.
Intervention by the United Nations is necessary because the federal and state governments have not done enough, Ferguson-Bohnee said. While tribes have tried to participate in creating Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, they do not feel their input has been valued, she said.
Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Chip Kline did not respond to requests for comment.
“We’re in this situation because of the government’s action and inaction,” Ferguson-Bohnee said. “If nothing is done, we fear the worst.”