The small-and-shrinking Isle de Jean Charles and the plight of its people, is a striking illustration of crosscutting injustices exacerbated by climate change, as the Nola.com’s impressive, brutal, and beautiful reporting shows.
In the early 19th Century, Theresa “Betty” Billiot’s Choctaw ancestors fled U.S. government-sponsored ethnic cleansing and forced relocation at the end of the Trail of Tears and took refuge with Biloxi, Houma and Chitimacha Indians on a ridge surrounded by marsh and coastal prairie about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans. In 1957, when Billiot was born, what is now known as Isle de Jean Charles was an island covering 35 square miles. Today, the dozen remaining inhabitants, mostly French-speaking members of the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation, live on less than one square mile of land.
Sea level rise, hurricanes, and land loss exacerbated by canals and dredging for oil and gas operations have all contributed to the island’s disappearance into the sea. In 2016 a federally-funded grant promised help to relocate the island’s residents, but because the Isle de Jean Charles tribe lacks federal recognition, however, they partnered with the state of Louisiana, which has abandoned the tribe’s vision for resettlement in numerous ways reminiscent of centuries of broken treaties and stolen land, and plans for a new community further inland have yet to fully materialize. (NOLA.com; Climate Signals background: Sea level rise)