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Documenting the Loss of Sacred Tribal Lands to Preserve Cultural Identity and Heritage

Louisiana and Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes

Featured image for the project, Documenting the Loss of Sacred Tribal Lands to Preserve Cultural Identity and Heritage

Photo Courtesy of Theresa Dardar


Sacred tribal land is disappearing at an alarming rate, and increasingly rapidly. Tribal lands sacred to the Pointe-au-Chien Tribe in the Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes of Louisiana, are no exception to this.  There are many processes driving this disappearance, among them are: climate change-driven sea level rise, subsidence along the coast, and erosion exacerbated by land use change caused by commercial exploitation. Of particular concern to the Pointe-au-Chien Tribe are sacred ceremonial and burial grounds susceptible to these intensifying coastal changes.  The challenges in this regard are to: 1) document the rate at which the land is disappearing so that the tribe has hard data with which to influence regional planning efforts; 2) preserve the sacred land for as long as possible by actively reducing erosion; 3) carefully map sacred lands so that their locations can be preserved if efforts to maintain them are unsuccessful.

The Project

To support the following project objectives, the team, once assembled, will discuss ways to best generate the appropriate resources to support monitoring, instrumentation, and experimental costs. 

The Pointe-au-Chien Tribe seeks support to:

1. Document the rate at which sacred lands are disappearing.

With a particular focus on the burial mound, the tribe wants to know the erosion rates.  The tribe will provide access to the site and help maintain any on-site instrumentation necessary to document the erosion rates.

2. Develop options for reducing the rate of land loss. 

While it is important to know the erosion rates, the ultimate goal is to protect the mounds. Working together, scientists and the tribe would generate several ideas to slow the rate of erosion, even temporarily.  Ideas could be generated through community meetings, research of strategies used in other areas, historical and traditional practices.  This should involve using both traditional knowledge about land use and preservation practices while exploring erosion protection methods that are likely to be effective under future conditions.

3. Perform experiments on the options for land loss.

Once instruments are available to measure erosion rates, we can start to test the ideas about slowing erosion with small-scale experiments.  In this way, documenting and reducing land loss can be approached in a complementary and iterative way. Long term trends will provide clear documentation on the rate of loss, and the short-term experiments will allow the tribe to test new approaches without jeopardizing their efforts to document the overall trend. Regular review of the data, with the tribe and other stakeholders, will allow near-term decision-making about various erosion mitigation strategies which might extend the time available to save the mounds.

4. Develop high-resolution geolocation information for the sacred lands in the event that they are ultimately lost.

If adaptation efforts fail and the sacred lands are lost, it is critical to the cultural future of the tribes to have a permanent, accurate record of where these lands once were, and their cultural and historic significance. During the project, high-resolution geolocation information will be collected for the sacred lands.  Ideally this information will be connected to a separate project conducted by a social scientist working to develop and document an audiovisual archive of interviews with tribal elders and members at the sacred sites. These narratives will ensure that the cultural history and significance of the places are captured (see Addendum).

Cumulatively, this work will:

  • Shed light on how to slow down the loss of sacred lands.
  • Provide documentation and information the tribes can use in their negotiations with state and federal organizations.
  • Provide information and infrastructure useful for teaching in a tribal context and educate those outside the tribe on the cultural and socio-ecological history and value of the tribal lands.

The Outputs of this project will be:

  • A permanent record of the location of sacred tribal lands.
  • Reduction of land loss and possibly preservation of sacred sites.

Project Team

Coming soon!

Community Leads

Theresa Dardar and Donald Dardar who represent the Pointe-au-Chien Tribe, serve as the community leads.

Scientific Liaison

Dr. Alex Kolker is an Associate Professor at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON)