While doing field research in 2018 for a book, I took a boat to a shell midden in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, near where the Vermilion River – long home to my ancestors of various sorts – meets up with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway before spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. My people, the Ishak, also known as the Atakapa (or even the Atakapa-Ishak) once inhabited the nearby Onion Bayou. Our ancient midden is bisected by a ship channel known as Four Mile Cutoff.
Standing there, I watched ships ferrying workers and equipment for oil exploration, going straight through the middle of this remnant of our cultural legacy. In our tribal creation myth, the first Ishak walked out of that very gulf onto our lands. Now something else coming from there is a dominant cultural, environmental, and economic force.