HOUMAS INDIAN TRIBE
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The year was 1686 when French explorer Robert LaSalle led his expedition down the Mississippi toward its mouth; a land to be named Louisiana. As he rounded a bend in the river about 30 miles north of what is now Baton Rouge,

 

LaSalle was welcomed by a friendly Indian tribe located on a high bluff overlooking the east bank of the Mississippi River.

This tribe had established themselves here for over 50 years when they separated from the Chakchiuma nation along the Yazzo River in Mississippi sometime after 1540. In their Muskogean language interpreted by the French, their tribal name was Oumas meaning red. This was a shortened form for the Chakchiuma word saktchi-homma meaning red crawfish. The symbol of the tribe to this day.

LaSalle’s visit, unfortunately changed the life of these Native Americans in a tragic way. Just as so many explorers before, incidental contact with natives often transmitted what may have been harmless diseases from one group to deadly sickness for another.

Within a year of the French visit with the Houmas, over half of the tribe had succumbed to dysentery. This fact along with their warring with neighboring tribes forced their migration around 1750 to an area near the entrance to Bayou Lafourche in Ascension Parish near the present town of Burnside, LA.

Here the tribe built their village and lived peacefully until the demand for land by the French, German, Acadian, and Spanish settlers grew forcing the Houmas to “sell” of lands there in 1772. Many historians believe the Houma’s chief was tricked into the sale due to his deficiency in the written and spoken language in the contract. It was later disclosed that the chief would have needed the approval of the entire tribe in order to consummate such a sale. Much of the tribe remained in the area early in the 19th century.

Eventually they migrated further south into Terrebonne, Lafourche, and Jefferson parishes. Unfortunately, their intermarriage with other Indian tribes, French Creoles and blacks combined with the disappearance of their tribal organization at the time, official census numbers greatly underestimated their population until the federal government labeled the Houmas tribe as extinct.

It was not until 1979 with the formation of the United Houma Nation with an enrollment of over 11,000 sought to gain federal recognition. Eventually their case was considered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs; but it was denied in 1994. The State of Louisiana does however recognize the Houmas Tribe as the largest in Louisiana and as such are members of the Louisiana Inter tribal Council.

Several Native American historians believe that because of their Gulf Coast location, the Houmas were not part of the Trail of Tears which took place during the 1830’s; moving tribes from their homes in the southeastern United States to designated reservations in the West. And therefore the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not consider this tribe as existing.

Although over time their language has disappeared, the Houma’s tribe has continues to maintain many of the ancestral traditions with annual tribal ceremonies featuring dances and craft shows.