15 June 2010
across several parishes in coastal southeastern Louisiana, the
17,000-member United Houma Nation, a state-recognized tribe, has
prepared for and survived some of the most devastating
hurricanes. But the oil leak that has pumped millions of gallons
of toxic crude into the Gulf of Mexico is nothing like a
hurricane. Itís far worse.
have been living, hunting, fishing, shrimping, crabbing,
trapping and harvesting oysters in the Louisianaís coastal
marshes and wetlands for hundreds of years. Yet as Principal
Chief Brenda Dardar Robichaux last week said in her testimony
before members of the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs
Wildlife and Oceans, which is investigating the impacts of the
BP spill, ďThis lifestyle is now in jeopardy.Ē
AIR talked to
Dardar Robichaux about the spill ó its impact on the tribeís
communities, the tribe's fears and what its citizens need to
survive. Here is what she had to say:
the tribe ever contemplated a disaster like this?
Robichaux: No, we have not. We have learned to handle
hurricanes over the years. We were actually impacted by four
major storms over the last five years ó Katrina, Rita and, three
years later, Gustav and Ike. We know how to prepare, how to
evacuate. We come home, we gut out our homes, we repair our
fishing vessels and we move on. This is totally different than
any hurricane. Itís very new to us and quite frightening.
do you even prepare for something like this?
Robichaux: I donít know that you can. The unknown is
agonizing. Itís almost like a slow death because we know just
with our history we have had with the four hurricanes in the
last five years that another one is going to hit our area. We
are just praying that the oil spill will be cleaned up before
that happens. Ö If we are impacted by a hurricane prior to this
oil spill being cleaned up, you know, thatís more or less the
death of our communities.
Sometimes it is
hard to come up with the words. Iím usually not at a loss for
words, but when you think of the impacts, short- and long-term,
that this can have on our communities, you almost canít go there
because itís too painful.
We are a strong,
resilient people. You know, we have survived a lot of challenges
throughout our history. To think that this is our greatest
challenge and we have no control over it. Ö
might mean relocating for many?
Robichaux: It might mean relocating for many. With our
communities along the coastline of southeastern Louisiana, we
are the first to feel the effects of coastal land loss. We are
often left out of any type of levee protection system. There are
no water control structures to speak of that protect us. There
is no barrier island. So, we have learned to adapt.
the oil, in any shape or form, hit your homeland yet?
Robichaux: Oh, definitely. Itís right up against a lot of
our marshes and right up in our communities.
the tribe have an emergency response team that is responding to
Robichaux: We have done the best that we can through other
organizations and try to provide services. I made two trips to
Washington trying to find a contact person to work with BP, to
see what we can do to protect our own land because we know the
marshes; we know what needs to be protected better than anyone
are your priority needs?
Robichaux: Making sure we have enough resources to be able
to provide for our families ó just basic needs of food and
clothing and whatever that looks like ó just basic needs of a
manpower. We need some type of vehicle that we can provide
services, such as mental health services because we have great
concern for everyone, from the children to our elders, and the
impact itís having that way.
A lot of our
tribal citizens who are fishermen did not have opportunities for
education. That did not come until the Civil Rights Act in the
mid 60s. We have great concerns of them navigating their way
through the [BP] claims process, great concern that they will be
taken advantage of. So, we need case management to help them
through that process as well as outreach. There is a lot of
accurate, current information being disseminated. Because we are
spread out through such a large area, we have concerns that
information is not reaching our tribal citizens in an accurate
and credible manner. Ö
your testimony [Subcommittee on Insular Affairs Wildlife and
Oceans], you said you need monitoring equipment for air, water
Robichaux: Because people who are actually doing some of the
cleanup work we feel are not really being educated on the
long-term impacts of what this is going to do to their health.
Normally, the training that is done lasts 40 hours Ö if you are
going to work with this hazardous material. The training that
they are being given is actually a four-hour training. Ö
To listen to Dardar Robichauxís
testimony, which was delivered on June 10,
click here (Note: This link opens Windows Media Player).
Principal Chief Brenda Dardar Robichaux is introduced and gives
her testimony at 02:21:37 into the video.