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Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana

 

Providing for our Community - The Impact of World War II and other outside influences, along with successful petitioning in Washington, inspired additional Tribal efforts toward establishing and improving community programs to meet the needs of the Tribe.

 

Education is one of the Tribe’s top priority; a commitment evidenced by sacrifices during the early years at Carlisle Indian School to the school in Chief Ernest “Papa Jack” Darden’s home, to the condemned school building, from which grew the Tribal School on reservation today. From the small, determined, yet humble start of education on the Chitimacha Reservation, our students have gone on to become tribal leaders; lawyers, dentists, doctors, nurses, teachers, businessmen, administrators, directors of Tribal programs, Tribal Councilmen, and Tribal Chairman.

 

The Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana in its dedication to education offers a variety of educational scholarships, grants and awards to enrolled Chitimacha Tribal members who wish to further their education. “As tribal chairman, I wish you success in your endeavors; for your success is also ours. As our past Chairman Ralph Darden once said, ‘You are the future of our Tribe’.” Quote from Chairman Alton D. LeBlanc, Jr.

 

In the early 1990s, we began phased development of a comprehensive Master Plan. It addressed everything from housing to cultural preservation. The biggest catalyst for its implementation came in the 1980s, when we succeeded in winning gaming rights. We established the Chitimacha Development Corporation (CDC) to head up all economic development. Gaming provided the funds needed to accelerate tribal development projects. In 1985, we opened the 30,000 square foot Bayouland Bingo, our first gaming development on the reservation.

 

The Chitimacha Tribe, pursuant to its’ Sovereign authority, owns and operates the Cypress Bayou Casino. The Chitimacha Tribal Gaming Commission has the primary regulatory responsibility to oversee all gaming operations on the reservation. The Commission is also responsible to ensure consistency and compliance of Casino operations with the various technical provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, National Indian Gaming Commission and the Tribal/State compact.

 

A Thriving Community - Due to proper planning, we now enjoy education, housing, health care, social/human service, childcare, law enforcement, fire protection, recreation, senior/assisted living, and cultural programs. Our community services are so effective that the Tribe has become a model for other communities, both Native and non-Native American. This success is made possible by economic development revenues and assistance from the Federal Government through grants.

 

Investing in the Future - The future is always foremost in tribal planning, for we aim to provide for future generations of Chitimacha. We nurture working relationships with federal, state, and regional leadership, paving the way for future growth and collaborative ventures.

 

                         

Tribal Government

 

Traditional Government - In our traditional Tribal government, the head Chief or Chieftess presided over approximately fifteen villages. Each village had a population of at least 1,500 and was governed by four to five War Chiefs, one or more Spiritual Leader, a Medicine Person, and a Ceremonial Leader.

 

Contemporary Government - On September 14, 1970, the Tribe adopted a Constitution and bylaws, and the traditional system of government was replaced with a Tribal Council consisting of a Chairman, Vice- Chairman, Secretary/ Treasurer and two councilman at large elected by the Chitimacha People. The Chitimacha Tribe is a Sovereign Nation that shares a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States.

 

The Chitimacha Tribal Council is the governing body, while departments within the Tribal organization run day-to-day operations of the Tribal government.

 

Land Issues

 

Origin Legend - Honoring the Great Spirit, the Chitimachas believed he made the world and all that was in it from his own body. He did not look like a man, they believed, because he had no eyes and ears. But he could see everything and hear everything and knew everything.

 

First there was nothing but water, hiding the earth. The Great Spirit made fish and shellfish to live in the water. The Indians believed he told the crawfish to dive under the water and bring up mud to make the earth. As soon as this was done, he made men and called the earth and men “Chitimacha”.

 

They believed he gave men laws to live by, and for a time all went well. But soon the men forgot the laws and the world was no longer good. The Great Spirit knew something must be done. He finally made tobacco and women and gave them to man. But still, all was not well. The animals made fun of men because he had neither fur nor feathers to cover his body. Legend has it that he gave man bows and arrows to shoot the animals and use their fur to cover his body.

 

The world needed light and heat, so the Great Spirit made the moon and the sun. The moon was man and the sun his wife. Indian legend says the Great Spirit told them they must bathe often in order to be strong enough to give off light and heat. The sun did what she was told and bathed often. But the moon did not obey. He took no baths. And to this day, he can still be seen chasing across the sky trying to catch the sun. Ernest Darden.

 

“This is how the Bayou Teche was formed,” they tell you. “Ages ago a huge venomous snake lay across the land. Its length was not measured by feet but by miles. Its head lay beyond where Morgan City stands today. Its tail lay farther west than St. Martinville. After a time the Chitimacha chief called his warriors to battle with the serpent. Their weapons were clubs, bows and arrows, the arrows tipped with the teeth of the garfish. The snake writhed as they wounded it. It turned, twisted and coiled in its death struggle. The great body broadened, curved and deepened the mud where it lay. The waters flowed in, cutting the channel deeper and deeper. That was the way the Bayou Teche was made. The word “Teche” in the Chitimacha tongue means ‘snake’.” Ernest Darden and Robert Vilcan

 

Our Homelands Plundered - Land loss began in the late 1600s through battles with the French and Spanish. In the early 1700s, bands of heavily armed Frenchmen began attacks and slaving raids on our villages. These attacks progressed into a devastating twelve-year war. Afterward, survivors retreated to remote backwaters of the main village. In the late 1700s, the Chitimacha Tribe was recognized by French and Spanish Governors of Louisiana, guaranteeing the Tribe’s territorial integrity. This “guarantee” was not honored, and continued encroachment by French, Spanish, and English settlements further reduced our land holdings.

 

In 1846, the Tribe found it necessary to sue the U.S. government for confirmation of title. The resulting decree established a mere 1,093.43 acres as Chitimacha territory. Between 1850 and 1916, taxation-forced sales and continued litigation reduced Tribal land holdings to just 261.54 acres. In spite of hardships, prejudice, and discrimination, we succeeded in holding on to what little remained of our homelands. Today, we are the only Tribe in Louisiana to still occupy a portion of its’ aboriginal land.

 

During the 1990s, revenues from commercial enterprises provided the Tribe with funding for additional land acquisitions. Today approximately 1,000 acres have been re-acquired. The Tribe continues to look for opportunities to further expand land holdings, planning for future growth.

 

Housing

 

Ancestral Homes - The traditional construction of homes reflected the essence of our culture: a Tribe striving together for the common good. Each spring and fall, the entire Tribe worked side by side until every hut in the village had been rebuilt.

 

Palmetto Huts - These huts were easily built of local materials and were ideally suited to our subtropical climate. The mud and moss walls made homes cool in summer and warm in winter. A small central fire provided heat for cooking and smoke, which helped repel mosquitoes. The thick palmetto thatch roof kept out even the heaviest downpours. Through the villagers’ efforts, the walls of a new hut could be completed in a single day. Palmetto homes were either square or octagon in shape.

 

Village Life

 

Ways of our Ancestors - The Chitimacha lived utilizing available resources from the land and water provided by neyq (earth), carefully taking only what was needed for survival. Living in harmony with the land, we cultivated maize and sweet potatoes, and also harvested wild vegetables, game, fish, and shellfish. Our culture was distinct. We used two forms of our language, polite and common, and had a complex clan system. Tribal members held certain positions within the Tribe and could be distinguished by lifestyle, dress, hairstyle, and body art.

 

Traditional Dress - Women traditionally painted their faces red and white only, while men painted theirs red and black only. Women wore their hair loose, in braids or tresses, depending on their martial status. Men also wore their hair loose or braided, except during war and ceremony, when it was pulled high up into a “ponytail.” Both women and men adorned their hair with feathers. Warriors were distinguished by necklaces, nose rings, earrings, tattoos, and scarification of their knees.                       

                       

Clothing at the time of European contact consisted of breechcloths, moccasins, and dresses made from deer hide. These hides were brain tanned scraping off the hair, working the brain into the hide for softness and curing, and the stretching the hide over a framework of poles for smoking. Under the framework, a small, but heavily smoked fire was made using palmetto leaves. The hide was smoked on both sides until it cured. Hide garments were sewn using sinew and then decorated according to personal taste. Shells and woodpecker scalps were part of the adornment on the women’s dresses. Chiefs used hides that had been blackened with charcoal for their breechcloths.            

                       

In addition to hide, the Chitimacha used cloth that they wove from native plants for clothing until the introduction of European trade cloth. By the late seventeen hundreds, our clothing styles had already begun to reflect the strong influence of the European culture.                     

                       

This series of pictures, documenting the basket making process, were taken in the early 1930s.             

                         

The Canoe - The canoe was the primary mode of transportation used to navigate the bayous and Atchafalaya Basin, allowing access to hunting and fishing grounds. The traditional canoe was made from water-resistant cypress, cottonwood or elm. Large canoes were approximately 30 feet long and could hold 15 to 30 people.                 

                       

Its flat-hulled, narrow shape was ideal for navigating everything from shallow cypress swamps to open waters, and its influence can be seen in the design of historic pirogues as well as modern Delta boats.               

                       

Legend – How the First Canoe Was Made. It is said that the knowledge of how to make the canoe was given to the Chitimacha by their Supreme Deity who took six Indians into the woods and showed them how to fell a cypress tree by burning the trunk. After the tree had fallen he showed them how to secure a section of the right length by lighting fires under the log, and how to shape the bottom ends of the canoe by burning the surface of the log and scraping the charred wood with a clam shell. A fire was made on top of the log for its entire length in order to make the inside of the canoe, the wood being charred and scraped so the opening would be the right depth and width. A mold of mud was laid along the upper edge of the partly finished canoe so that burning would not go too far down on the side, and the upper edge of the opening was made smooth by careful scraping. The Supreme Deity showed them how to do all this, so the canoe: “would be useful to the Indians in going from place to place.” It was propelled by a paddle, like that used by other tribes.

 

Weavers of the Past and Future

 

Weavers of the past, Weavers of the Future. Our Chiefs and Chairmen have continually worked for the improvement of our people. With vision for the Tribe’s future and commitment to our people, their leadership has shaped all that we enjoy today. Education and economic development are just a few of our Tribal leaders commitments.

 

Our basket makers are responsible for carrying our culture into the future. Baskets made hundreds of years ago and baskets made today still show the identical patterns and style of our ancestors. Basket makers such as Clara Darden, Delphine Stouff, Christine Paul and Pauline Paul are known for their basketry style and commitment to the cultural art. Their perseverance and instruction of the art to Chitimacha women and children, have insured that our basket makers of today have the same knowledge as of generations ago.

 

Tribal Mission Statement - The Tribal Council in defining its responsibilities to their people, adopted the following mission statement June 8, 1996 - “We the people of the Sovereign Nation of the Chitimacha, in order to proclaim and perpetuate our vision, hereby embrace these beliefs: We must preserve and protect our natural resources, our people and all Native Americans. We must promote a harmonious existence among ourselves and within our community. We must maintain the highest level of integrity, honor and authenticity in all our endeavors, and We must always exist as a Nation by preserving our cultural heritage.”