When you think of New Orleans and Native Americans, you typically think of the Mardi Gras Indians. Their elaborate costumes and customs, rich in tradition and song, seen and heard throughout many of the neighborhoods of the city during Mardi Gras and Super Sunday. Much of their oral traditions speak of slavery as far back as the 18th century and the forged friendships and “masking” between the runaway slaves and the Native Americans in the region that protected and hid them.
The discussions of Native Americans typically ends there when it comes to New Orleans and regional history. But did you know that the New Orleans metropolitan area and Louisiana is rich in Indigenous culture and communities still today?
Accurate statistical information on Native American Tribes and their populations across the country is often fuzzy, with census data not accounting for everyone in an Indian area or enrolled in their tribe. According to the 2020 Decennial Census, there are 31,657 American Indian and Alaskan Natives in Louisiana and more than 71,471 claiming multi-race within the AIAN designation, or more than 2% of the state’s population. The New Orleans metropolitan area itself has about 2,700 people who self-identify as having AIAN backgrounds, making up about .7% of the state’s American Indian Alaskan Natives population.
There are four federally recognized tribes and 11 state recognized tribes in Louisiana, identified on the map. The federally recognized tribes include:
- Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana
- Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana
- Jena Band of Choctaw
- Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana
State recognized Tribes include:
- Adai Caddo Indians of Louisiana
- Bayou Lafourche Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees
- Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb
- Clifton Choctaw Tribe of Louisiana
- Four Winds Cherokee
- Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi Chitimacha Choctaw
- Jean Charles Choctaw Nation
- Louisiana Band of Choctaw
- Natchitoches Tribe of Louisiana
- Pointe-au Chien-Indian Tribe
- United Houma Nation
Federally recognized tribes have a government-to-government relationship, as sovereign nations, with the United States. They receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their relationship with the United States, working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and federal agencies.
State-recognized tribes are authorized by state legislatures with acknowledgement of their historical and cultural contributions to the area. State-recognized tribes do not confer the same federal benefits. However, between the 15 tribal communities within the state of Louisiana is a vast history of culture and governance, going back more than 10,000 years.
These are some of the reasons that I am joining Verite to produce a monthly column with the theme “We are still here” to bring a voice about Louisiana Indian Country to the local and regional area.
Native people are the minority of the minority groups, deemed “Something else” or “Other” in major news or data collection. Locally, when you hear of the tribes in Louisiana it’s often related to a natural disaster, such as hurricanes or climate change, and the annual mentioning of our cultural and arts significance during the Jazz and Heritage Festival.
This column will be written from a New Orleans local, Native American perspective, lending a voice to the issues we face as Native people, bringing awareness to the local community of our history, events, arts and culture.
As you go out this week to “Laissez les bon temps rouler” take a look around and become aware of the Native American influence of our great city of New Orleans and Louisiana. “Dúste’ niya’ náyukpah!” That’s “Happy Mardi Gras” in Uma (Houma) language).
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