Native Nations in Louisiana: A Louisiana State Museum travelling exhibit.
Louisiana’s Native American nations and individuals contribute greatly to the state’s cultural diversity and
heritage. Yet, throughout the centuries Louisiana Indians have faced discrimination and while trying to
survive in a society largely hostile to their presence. Native communities in remote rural areas maintained
their distinct culture and languages into the 1900s, yet their isolation also limited their ability to advance
economically. Before the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, tribal members in Louisiana had
very little access to public schooling, as segregation laws prohibited their attendance at local public
In the post-Civil Rights era, Louisiana Indian tribes have gained access to public education and new
economic opportunities. Four tribes (Chitimacha, Coushatta, Jena Choctaw and Tunica-Biloxi) are
federally recognized sovereign nations, and have found economic success through new business ventures
such as casinos. Other state-recognized tribes in rural areas continue to bring economic development and
higher standards of living to their communities. Regardless of their economic success, all Louisiana tribes
embrace programs and events that to revitalize cultural traditions and continue the passing of traditional
knowledge to younger generations.
2. Current Issues
For many Louisiana Indians, until the 1960s local high schools were not open to their enrollment. In the
early 1900s, some tribes such as the Jena Choctaw, the Coushatta, the Chitimacha and the Houma had their
own tribal schools, as they were denied access to local public schools until federal Civil Rights laws
prohibited educational discrimination. Today, tribal members attend their local public or parochial schools,
while the Chitimacha maintain a modern tribal school in Charenton. All federally recognized tribes stress
the importance of maintaining their language through on-going adult and family language skill classes.
Historically, Louisiana tribes did not always have easy access to modern health care. More recently,
federally recognized tribes have gained the resources of the federal Indian health care system, while state
recognized tribes have access to state resources in health care and social services. For many Natives, the
embracing of traditional healing methods and treatments from traiteurs serve as an important alternative to
mainstream health care. More recently, many of these natural healers are now honored for their knowledge
of natural medicines and their importance to state folk culture.
Land and Housing
Federally recognized tribes also have access to federal housing services, which enable tribes to provide
adequate housing for members on the reservations. In south Louisiana however, the state-recognized
United Houma Nation and other coastal tribes faces a great housing and land crisis. In the mid-1800s, the
Houma and other tribes moved to the remote coastal marshes south of New Orleans and Houma seeking
isolation. Today, however, rapid coastal erosion and hurricane damage threatens their homes and
precarious life-style along coastal bayous, forcing many families to move inland.
Preservation of Traditional Cultures
Native communities across the state make great attempts to maintain their traditional customs, languages
and folkways in spite of the pressures of modern media and other outside influences. Many tribes hold
powwows as public festivals where dancing, crafts, foodways and other traditions are exhibited. Tribes
with their languages in-tact are also making efforts to maintain these languages through education and
emphasis on cultural pride and identity.
3. The Coushatta (Koasati) Tribe of Louisiana
The Coushatta (Koastai) nation is a thriving community, even after numerous relocations and withdrawal of
federal assistance from 1953-1973. Their reservation is located just north of Elton in southwest Louisiana
(Allen Parish) where most of the members reside. The construction of the Coushatta Casino Resort has
brought needed revenue to the nation, which it is using to build a new Heritage Center projected to open
the Fall of 2009. The center will feature a theatre, exhibit interactives, and video displays that will tell
Coushatta history. The center will also house digital records of the tribe for public viewing in hopes that it
will become a place where members are encouraged to learn about their culture and language.
The Koasati language is at the center of recent Coushatta efforts to preserve their culture. Facing a decline
in the number of fluent speakers, tribal advocates worked together to develop an innovative program to
make sure that the Koasati language survived. The Koasati Language Committee is creating an electronic
database and archive that is navigable in both Koasati and English to fully document the language. The
effort is becoming a catalyst for additional cultural revitalization projects.
4. The Sovereign Nation of the Chitimacha
The Chitimacha lived along the Mississippi River and the bayous of southeastern Louisiana when the
French colonizers went to war against the tribe in 1700 to gain their lands along the Mississippi River.
Retreating to the Atchafalaya Basin, the Chitimacha survived by living in relative isolation. In the early
1900s, remaining Chitimacha gained a reservation in Charenton, Louisiana (St. Mary Parish), which today
houses a museum, health clinic, tribal school and the Cypress Bayou Casino.
Though the Chitimacha language survived wars and assimilation, its future looked endangered when the
last fluent speakers died in the mid 20th century. Recently, the tribe has partnered with the Rosetta Stone, a
computer-based language learning program, to create a language preservation and education program using
archived recordings from the U.S. Library of Congress and the assistance of an expert linguist. Many tribal
members both old and young are learning to language through this new program. Another cultural legacy of
the Chitimacha revival effort is basketry. The Chitimacha are renowned for the intricate designs and
double-weaving techniques and some members continue to practice the art today. The Chitimacha
language and basketry traditions are an important part of their tribal identity and efforts to sustain these
traditions will ensure that the knowledge will be passed on to future generations.
5. Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana
The Tunica and Biloxi Indians were once separate tribes that spoke different languages. But, after centuries
of living together on their reservation near Marksville (Avoyelles Parish) in central Louisiana, the tribes
joined together. Their motto “cherishing our past, building for our future” acknowledges the tribes’ rich
history and their reverence and preservation of ancestral remains, as well as the tribe’s commitment to
improving the lives of members and to honoring their rich history through the building of the Tunica-Biloxi
Today, the Tunica-Biloxi have used the benefits of federal recognition to insure a high standard of living
for the tribal members. Modern air conditioned houses have replaced the older wooden homes that lacked
indoor plumbing, and where drinking water was once carried by hand from nearby creeks. School buses
now stop on the reservation to take Tunica-Biloxi students to local schools. The tribe is now constructing a
health-care clinic to replace the smaller facility that was house in the tribal center, and their Grand Casino
Avoyelles, enable to nation to maintain some economic independence.
6. Jena Band of Choctaw
In the early 1700s, the Choctaw Indians lived in the area encompassing present-day southern Mississippi
and coastal southeast Louisiana. After France relinquished the Louisiana Colony and the Treaty of Dancing
Rabbit Creek was signed, many Choctaw moved west of the Mississippi River to establish homes in
LaSalle, Grant, and Catahoula Parishes between Alexandria and Monroe. After consolidating their
residences into some settlements around Jena (LaSalle Parish) in the latter 1800s, the tribe was largely
isolated from outsiders, which allowed members to maintain most of their customs and traditions.
The Jena Choctaw received federal recognition in 1995. Today the nation places a strong emphasis on
serving tribal members with resources for education, housing and health care needs, while also attempting
to maintain the Choctaw language. Stickball, which is the Native American sports game that developed
into modern lacrosse, is a Choctaw tradition and is the oldest field sport in America. The Choctaw continue
to play stickball today and is a highlight of the annual Choctaw Indian Fair in Choctaw, Mississippi.
Buckskin tanning is another Choctaw tradition and recently tribal elders have made a renewed effort to pass
along the craft skill to younger generations.
7. State Recognized Tribes
Federal and state recognition bestows different rights and benefits to Native Americans in Louisiana. The
four federally recognized tribes are eligible to receive funding and participation in federal programs for
housing, health care, and education programs, as well as the rights of self-government, tribal sovereignty
and self-determination. Yet eight other Indian communities in Louisiana have only state recognition. This
status provides these tribes enhanced access to state health and social services, scholarship funds for
secondary education (college, university or trade school), as well as hurricane recovery funds for
communities rebuilding their tribal facilities.
State recognized tribes are often rural communities which survived through both isolation and gradual
assimilation with non-Natives. In south Louisiana, most state recognized tribes live on the bayous and
marshes along the coast. In North Louisiana, state recognized tribes are often in remote forested areas.
Community members identify themselves as Indian, however in most cases their language has been lost.
Having an intact language is a requirement for federal recognition, and the loss of language is one of the
greatest barriers for these tribes to receive that federal status. The majority of state recognized tribes live
east of the Mississippi River, where federal removal policies in the 1830s encouraged isolation and
assimilation of those members who remained.
State Recognized Tribes:
Adai Indian Nation -http://www.adaiindiannation.com/
Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Confederation -http://www.biloxi-chitimacha.com/
Bayou Lafourche Band
Isle de Jean Charles Band
Grand Caillou/Dulac Band
Choctaw – Apache Community of Ebarb - http://www.choctaw-apache.org/
Clifton Choctaw Tribe
Four Winds Tribe -http://www.fourwindstribalcc.com
Louisiana Choctaw Tribe
Point-Au-Chien Tribe - http://pactribe.tripod.com/id7.html
United Houma Nation - http://www.unitedhoumanation.org/
8. Tourist Activities and Contacts
Louisiana State Museum Baton Rouge – features an excellent exhibit on the history of Poverty Point site
and the state’s Native American mound-building cultures
Louisiana State Museum – Cabildo, New Orleans – features an exhibit on the early history of Louisiana
Marksville State Historic Site
837 Martin Luther King Drive, Marksville, LA 71351
318-253-8954 or 888-253-8954 toll free
Features Native American earthworks mounds dating to 2000 BC, and a museum that interprets the site.
Poverty Point State Historic Site
6859 Highway 577, Pioneer, Louisiana 71266
318-926-5492 or 888-926-5492
Features the largest of the oldest Native American earthworks in North America dating to 3000 BC, and a museum that
interprets the site.
Los Adaes State Historic Site
6354 Hwy. 485, Robeline, LA 71449
318-472-9449 or 888-677-5378 toll free
Features the remains of the Spanish colonial mission and presidio (fort) where the Los Adaes tribe resided,
and a small museum that interprets the site history
For more information about Native American tribes in Louisiana and the current issues they are facing
today please visit any of the sources below.
Louisiana Indian Heritage Association
A non-profit organization that organizes events for Native Americans to showcase their traditions and their
Powwows in the Fall and Spring are open to the public.
Louisiana Governor's Office of Indian Affairs
Addresses the Native American issues in Louisiana and strives to help tribes achieve self-determination