What: The Houma People of Louisiana
Film by: UNO filmmaker Ariana Ghivizzani
Editor’s Note: The history of the Native people of Louisiana is rich and vibrant, yet often hidden in plain sight. In this short by UNO student Ariana Ghivizzani, we hear the story of the Houma tribe and their journey from survival to extinction and, once more, back to survival.
[Read the full transcript below]
Before French colonization turned the area into what we know today as New Orleans, the lands of the Mississippi Delta region were inhabited by multiple native tribes, one of which being the Houma people. The first known record of the tribe comes from French explorer, Rene-Robert Cavalier, who observed the tribe living along the Red River in 1682. In March of 1700, the tribe was in a land dispute with the neighboring Bayagoulla people over hunting grounds. The conflict was settled on by French colonel ambassador to New France, Sieur de Bienville. The new border was marked by a tall red pole in what is now known as Scott’s Bluff, known by the French as Baton Rouge. The area would develop into the modern city of the same name. When the Louisiana colony fell into the hands of the United States, the Articles of Louisiana Purchase Treaty held all treaties made between Natives of the area and the previous French and Spanish colonizers would be held by the new American government.
This was, however, not upheld and, as a result, only 60 members of the Houma people were counted and thus the United States acknowledged the tribe as extinct. The Houma people would remain relatively secluded in bayou settlements as the area became more industrialized. Roads connecting the settlements would not be built until the 1940s. During the Reconstruction era, newly passed Jim Crow laws established that Houma and other Native peoples of Louisiana would be subject to segregation and their children would be unable to attend public school. Until the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed and ended segregation, Houma children only attended missionary-established religious schools. Though the language was once considered extinct, a revival movement started in the 1980s has seen considerable progress in attempting its reconstruction.