Louisiana shoreline change, 1937–2000. Orange areas represent land lost. Graphic: Louisiana Geological Survey

By Terri Hansen
5 February 2016

(Indian Country) – It has taken well over a decade of advocating on behalf of his tribe to keep his scattered community intact as their island on Louisiana’s Gulf coast disappears under Gulf of Mexico waters, but now Chief Albert Naquin of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw is high fiving.

That’s because the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced in January that it had awarded the state-recognized tribe $48 million to pay for a move, most likely farther north inland, making them the first community of official climate refugees in the United States.

Chief Naquin is ecstatic to have gotten the funds.

“I’m very, very pumped,” Chief Naquin said. “I’m very, very excited. I’ve been working on this for 13 years. I’ve taken some pretty big hits for doing that, and not just locally.”

Naquin said the tribe’s standard of living should improve as well.

The monies are part of $92 million awarded to Louisiana as part of a National Disaster Resilience Competition the state won. HUD’s copy billion competition awarded funds to states and communities nationwide.

The Isle de Jean Charles has been reduced from 11 miles long and five miles wide in the 1950s, to around a quarter-mile wide and two miles long today. The tribe’s disintegrating homelands have already displaced and scattered many families, and some of the funding will pay for homes to reestablish community. […]

A 2014 ProPublica report about the tribe, Losing Ground, said sinking land and extreme erosion along the southeastern coast of Louisiana could lead to the “largest forced migration for environmental reasons in the history of the country.” […]

The tribe will still maintain ownership of their island home after they move as part of the agreement, Naquin said. The land contains their history, and their burial grounds.

“I hope it lasts 200 years,” he said.

However, Houma Today reported that experts suspect the island will be completely submerged within 50 years. NOAA measurements show the sea level is rising almost 10 millimeters (0.4 inches) a year in Louisiana because the land is also sinking in a process known as subsidence. [more]

Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Get $48 Million to Move Off of Disappearing Louisiana Island


By Erik Shilling 
16 February 2016

(Atlas Obscura)  – A slow-motion disaster is unfolding on the Isle de Jean Charles, deep in the Louisiana bayou, where a group of residents just received $48 million in federal funding to relocate.

These are the first official climate refugees in the lower 48 states.

The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians have lived in southern Louisiana for centuries, and, since 1880, a band of them inhabited the Isle. But several factors, including climate change, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and a series of destructive hurricanes have meant that the Isle de Jean Charles has lost 98 percent of its land since 1955.

Many residents have already fled, and houses have been washing away into the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate, from 63 total in 2004 to just 25 remaining as of 2009. The island is expected to be completely submerged in 50 years.

While this group represents the first refugee group in the lower 48 states, the title of "first climate refugees" has been bandied about before in America. In 2013, headlines appeared about an Alaskan village called Newtok that was losing homes thanks to unstoppable coastal erosion.

Newtok residents have voted to relocate after government officials said their home island could be completely covered in water by 2017. But that relocation has so far stalled amid a lack of money (the resettlement is estimated to cost up to $130 million) and a political dispute that has left two sets of leaders vying for power. Both groups will be among the United States’ first generation of climate refugees. (Globally, the first official climate refugees appear to be a family from Tuvalu granted residency in New Zealand in 2014.)

The federal government’s award, which was announced in January, will provide for a new home for the community of trappers and fisherman, who have lived on the island since 1880. Tribal leaders and officials have not settled on a exact location for the new settlement, except to say that it will be further inland.

"Climate change is real and we must think more seriously about how to plan for it," U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said in a statement. [more]

Meet the Continental U.S.'s First Official Climate Refugees

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