America’s Own Climate Change Refugees Prepare To Move

One Native American Tribe Is Being Forced To Move Due To Climate Change. It’s Just The Beginning.

As has been predicted now for decades — America is starting to face its own refugee crisis. This one has nothing to do with war; it has to do with climate change. It has just started, and the price being paid is already staggering.

It is set to cost $52 million to move The Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians from their shrinking island on the Louisiana Coast according to Reuters.

“This is the first time an entire community has had to be relocated due in part to rising sea levels, said Marion McFadden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The land loss is also due to factors such as erosion and sediment mismanagement, a Louisiana official said.”

The Native American tribe has lived on the island since the 1800’s, reaching a population height of 400 people at its peak. It is now shrunk to less than 100, and soon, no one will be left on the island which is being consumed by the sea thanks to climate change. It has been reduced from 15,000 acres to a half mile long, quarter mile wide strip. That is a 98 percent decrease in land mass since 1955.

Land loss is being attributed to rising sea levels and human activity in the Mississippi river including oil and gas development that is affecting sediment deposits in the Mississippi river delta. Worse yet, loss of wetlands in the delta due to human activity have made the island more vulnerable to the threat of hurricanes.

The Guardian spoke with 88-year-old island resident, Wenceslaus Billiot about what he has seen in his time on the island.

““When I was a kid I used to do trapping in the back,” he said, gesturing towards the back of the small, one-story house that stands elevated on stilts to escape the floods that roll in from the bayou after nearly every storm. “You could walk for a long time. Now, nothing but water.””

To add insult to injury, the tribe originally arrived on Isle de Jean Charles seeking refuge after the Indian Removal Act had been passed. Now the band is set to lose the very land that sustained them and gave them refuge for a century

As Inside Climate News reports, the price being paid by the vulnerable tribe is far more than just financial. This is also a serious blow to people themselves, according to Boyo Billiot, the deputy band chief.

“As the people leave, our culture goes with it. We are looking for a place we can be a community. That means a place we can care for each other, celebrate with each other and be together as family and friends on a daily basis.”

And sadly, this is just the beginning of a climate change driven trend according to executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development.

“We have numerous communities along the coast in danger of losing the land they live on. What we can do here is get the community resettled to a place where they will be safe and maintain their culture and create a model for other communities.”

The tribe has a website detailing their history on the island and explaining the environmental problems that are being faced not just by them, but everyone along the cost in the state of Louisiana, and ultimately a problem that will be faced by people living in coastal areas across the world.

“There are few environmental problems as dire as coastal erosion along the Gulf Coast. Southern Louisiana is the fastest disappearing landmass on earth. Over the past century, at least 2,000 square miles of marshland have disappeared, turning into open salt water.Today we have a frightening new problem on the horizon: sea level rise from global warming. Scientists say that in the next century, subsidence and expanding seas will create a 2- to 6-foot rise in the Gulf of Mexico relative to the height of the land for many areas around New Orleans. A rise of 3.3 feet — a mid-level projection rather than a worst-case scenario — would turn New Orleans into an island and the Baton Rouge suburbs into coastal towns.”

Feature image by Karen Apricot, Flickr.

Chris Hearn is an ageing freelance writer located in wintery Winnipeg. He is a stay-at-home-parent, amateur stand-up comedian, and a guy with a lot of opinions, much to everyone's dismay.