FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED TRIBES OF LOUISIANA
Following European contact, many cultures combined to shape Louisiana and its inhabitants: French, Spanish, American, and African. However, Indian tribes also left their mark and continue to do so to this day. Currently, there are four federally recognized Indian tribes in Louisiana, and several other Indian communities who do not yet have federal recognition. Indian tribes play an important role in flavoring the cultural gumbo of Louisiana.
The Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana have resided in the bayous of Southern Louisiana for centuries. Their first European contact was with French fur trappers in the early 1700s. More often than not, this contact was not peaceful as the French often raided into Chitimacha lands to take slaves. As a result, a brutal conflict erupted between the two sides and left the Chitimacha severely weakened.
Due to further European encroachment, the Chitimacha brought suit against the United States for confirmation of Tribal land. The federal government issued a decree which established 1,062 acres as Chitimacha land. Though that land now is only about 260 acres, the Chitimacha have endured and currently have an enrollment of just under one thousand.
The Chitimacha run the Cypress Bayou Casino. Using funds from the casino, the Tribe is able to operate housing developments and a tribal school. The Chitimacha have also implemented a commendable scholarship program giving tribal members money to attend college so long as they return home to perform extensive community service projects. In short, the Chitimacha have always been a part of Louisiana history and will continue to impact the State so long as they exist.
The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana first had contact with Europeans in 1540, during Hernando DeSoto’s exploration of North America along the Tennessee River. Unlike the Chitimacha, the Coushatta were not native to Louisiana, but were forced there due to European expansion after migrating through the American Southeast and stopping in Alabama.
Perhaps the most famous Coushatta, Red Shoes, led over 400 to Spanish Louisiana to escape American encroachment in 1797. Eventually, the Coushatta settled where they currently reside, near Bayou Blue close to the town of Elton, Louisiana. In 1953, during the era of Termination, the federal government terminated all services to the community. However, the Coushatta persevered and lobbied long and hard for re-recognition. In 1972, the state of Louisiana granted the Coushatta recognition and the following year the federal government followed suit. Current enrollment is at 875.
The Coushatta are famous for a number of things. First, many Coushatta women are skilled in the art of basket-making, specifically baskets made of longleaf pine needles. In 1995, the Coushatta opened the Coushatta Casino resort which has grown into Louisiana’s largest land based gaming enterprise. The Coushatta have used their gaming revenue to assist their people with health, housing, educational, and social programs. Finally, the Coushatta tribe was also front and center in the Jack Abramoff scandal that rocked Indian country in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. In sum, the Coushatta have had a long and winding road to reach their current situation, but their impact on Louisiana cannot be overlooked.
The Jena Band of Choctaw Indians also experienced their first recorded contact with Europeans in 1540, in Southern Mississippi. However, by the early 1700s, the Choctaw were present near Mobile, Alabama; Biloxi, Mississippi; and New Orleans, Louisiana. After the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in September of 1830, most of the Choctaw began to move west away from their ancestral lands. One band settled near Enterprise, Louisiana for a while before moving on to LaSalle Parish and Grant Parish.
By 1910, only 40 Choctaws lived in those two parishes. Though small, the Choctaw community kept to themselves and maintained their culture and way of life. Some dealings with the Federal government occurred, but full recognition did not come until 1995. Current enrollment stands at 284.
The Jena Band is the only one of the four federally recognized tribes in Louisiana not currently operating a gaming enterprise. However, that is due to change as the Jena Band has begun construction on a new Class II facility. The tribe had attempted for over a decade to build a facility but to no avail before this latest development.
Despite the lack of gaming revenue, the Jean Band do operate educational, health, housing, and transportation programs for its citizens. With the completion of their new gaming facility, the Jena Band is optimistic for its future. The Jena Band’s story is one of struggle and perseverance, but it is no less important to the history of Louisiana.
The fourth federally recognized tribe is the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. Currently located near Marksville, Louisiana, the Tunica-Biloxi were first encountered by Europeans by DeSoto in 1541 in northwestern Mississippi. The tribe was strong before European contact but disease, famine and warfare weakened the tribe and forced them to move southward. There they remained, and achieved federal recognition in 1981.
In 1994, the Tunica-Biloxi opened the Paragon Casino resort. The facility has over 64,000 square feet of gaming space and maintains Las Vegas style gaming options. Additionally, the resort operates a hotel and spa.
In addition to offering the usual social, educational, health, and housing programs to its citizens, the Tribe also has a Tribal Museum and Cultural Resources Center. There, the facility houses the “Tunica Treasure” – grave goods which were stolen from tribal graves but eventually recovered after a long legal battle. While not yet complete, the facility promises to be a cultural boon to the Tunica-Biloxi.
These four tribes all have different stories. While different, similarities do exist between them, namely struggle and a desire to succeed on behalf of their members. These four tribes have contributed greatly to the culture of Louisiana. Without them, the gumbo would not have the flavor it does.