NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Members of a Native American tribe who were in Hurricane Katrina's path of destruction found shelter and a chance to strengthen the bonds of kinship with fellow tribal members when they sought refuge on the Chitimacha Indian Reservation near Baldwin, Louisiana. Pronounced "chit-a-mon-sha," the tribe has been in Louisiana since time began.
Recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs as one of the 562 American Indian Tribes in the United States, the Chitimacha Indians are indigenous to the land. Tricia Mora, vice chair of the Chitimacha Indian Reservation said, "We were not directly affected by Hurricane Katrina at the reservation. We had about 350 tribal members living in New Orleans. The day after Katrina struck New Orleans, we had tribal members start contacting us at the reservation. We were hit twice by the hurricanes and received damage from Hurricane Rita."
The Chitimacha Indian Reservation, located between Layfette and New Iberia about three miles from the Gulf, took in 50 families of tribal members. These tribal members had never lived on the reservation before they took refuge there from the storm. Mora said, "We have an assisted living facility that was not full. We were able to put 75 tribal members in 10 units. They stayed with us about three weeks."
In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) put trailers on existing mobile home sites at the reservation. FEMA paid the tribe for the use of trailer lots on the reservation. Most of the evacuees stayed there up to two months, with the exception of three or four families who were tribal members who stayed on. Mora said the tribe purchased five modular homes for the tribal families who decided to stay on the reservation.
Some of the evacuees were able to return to their original homes. Others went to Houston, Texas, to jobs or on to other places. "We have six families that had their homes either outright destroyed or damaged so bad they couldn't return," said Mora.
"These families have found jobs outside the reservation. One family who stayed has a teenager attending public school. The tribal school has about 80 students. There is one teacher for each grade and a principal. They also have Indian culture training."
"The hurricane victims have been very thankful for everything that was done to help them. A couple of the evacuees started attending the native language classes to be more familiar with their culture," said Mora.
Mora's background included being an administrator in the Tribal Gaming Commission. She was elected to vice chair of the Chitimacha Indian Reservation last June. The chair of the Chitimacha is Alton Le Blanc.
The Chitimacha Indian Reservation also owns two casinos located on their reservation land on Martin Luther King Road in Charton, Louisiana. There is an annual distribution of 50 percent of tribal revenues to tribal members. According to Mora, this is about $6,000 per tribal member.
The tribal members were provided breakfast and lunch; and on weekends they sometimes had barbeque and karaoke music. According to Mora the youngest of the families' children was 4 years old and the rest enrolled in the tribal school on the reservation which serves grades K through eight. The evacuee teenagers were able to enroll in the local public school.
One of the features of the Indian reservation that helped the children to recover from the traumatic affect of the hurricane was being able to use the recreation facilities at the reservation including a sports complex and a park with an Olympic-size swimming pool.
"FEMA was great and everything went smoothly. The Chitimacha also received monetary donations from other Indian tribes to help the tribe with the evacuees," said Mora.
Other tribes and Indian affiliated organizations sending financial help were the Agua Caline Band of Cahuilla Indians i...