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Hurricane Ida threatens Louisiana's Native American culture

Without the help and nurturing of friends, traditions unique to the Louisiana bayou will become another Ida casualty.

HOUMA, La. — Hurricanes are destroying more than homes and businesses in south Louisiana. They are threatening to destroy culture that can only be found here.

And now the damage from Hurricane Ida is threatening some of the native American culture unique to Terrebonne parish.

Just seven miles from the Gulf of Mexico in Theriot, homes along Bayou Dularge bear the scars of Hurricane Ida. Homes like Janie Luster's. She has no insurance, but the storm is not chasing her away.

“It's the traditional ways of life. People pull together down here,” Luster said about why she loves living where she does.

Up the bayou, there is not much her daughter Ann Robichaux has left. A slab, a pile of debris, while her family lives out of a mobile home and shipping containers.

“I love the bayou. Everybody in times like this, everybody's here for everybody,” Robichaux said.

Janie is an elder in the United Houma Nation. She's seen storms push her fellow Native Americans out.

“But now we've seen the migration to Baton Rouge, to the Covington, Mandeville area, and some even out of state,” Luster said.

And with them go the traditions. Janie is considered a Louisiana culture bearer. After being lost for more than 80 years, she brought back a 300-year-old tribal tradition, a special basket weaving pattern with the palmetto leaf. Now she's even more determined to teach the next generation.

“And I think now with this hurricane, it's even now more embedded to me to be able to do this,” Luster said.

”These traditions are what make Louisiana, Louisiana and this is why people come to visit our state,” said Teresa Parker, Chair of the Louisiana Folklife Commission.

That’s a state volunteer group. The members want to make sure the cultural foods and recipes, music, art, and handcrafts are not lost to environmental changes. So they are making sure that culture bearers, like Janie, get financial support from places like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation and the National Performance Network.

“It's awesome because, honestly, this is where our culture's from, the bayous,” Robichaux said.

“A little song came to me: ‘I get by with a little help from my friends,’ and my friends though the years, made contact through Jazz, the different festivals, have come through,” Luster said as her eyes filled with tears.

And that’s because without the help and nurturing of friends, traditions unique to the Louisiana bayou will become another Ida casualty.

Along with the United Houma Nation, the tribal communities of Pointe-au-Chien and Isle-de-Jean-Charles, were also severely impacted. If you'd like to help, you can visit the following websites:

Help the United Houma Nation rebuild

Pointe-au-Chien Tribe

Isle de Jean Charles