HOUMA, LOUISIANA-- This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a real taste of authentic Louisiana for the 11th Annual Celebrating Abilities, Disability Awareness Pow Wow by the United Houma Nation People, the largest indigenous group of Louisiana.
On the drive down to Houma, from New Orleans, I knew I was in for something special. I thought about one half of my Grandmother's family tree. My grandmother identified as an African-American woman, but her parents came from Oklahoma and were biracial, their other half was of indigenous American, originating from the Choctaw Chickasaw people. It was a heritage, my father was very proud of and once, when my brother and I were young kids, my dad drove us out one Saturday, to see a pow wow.
Today, I was to revive that experience. Upon my arrival I met the Chief of the United Houma Nation, Chief August Creppel, who made me feel very welcome, as if I were family (he offered to feed me Native American tacos). He explained to me that pow wows happen throughout the United States year-round. They are an ornate, intimate declaration of America's first culture. Today was a celebration of both a family reunion and a festival of culture.
"We are the largest tribe in Louisiana of over 17 thousand plus, that is spread out between six different parishes and we have 11 districts that we represent," says Chief Creppel.
The position of Chief requires campaigning and is an elected position with a four-year-term. Above all of that it holds a lot of responsibility.
"I've been Chief for eight months now and it's like a rollercoaster ride. It's my responsibility as a United Houma citizen to make sure our children learn. That way they can teach the other kids and keep our culture going." says Chief Creppel.
Each tribe of indigenous people are unique, but the native Americans of Louisiana are especially unique in the ways they have historically provided the foundation of Louisiana's culture.
The crawfish is the war symbol of the Houma tribe and it is thanks to them, that the overall cajun/creole population knows about the taste of crawfish. It is also thanks to them, that we have the file' for our gumbo. It is a common misconception that all native people's lived in teepees, like the indigenous people of the plains. The Houma's ancestors lived in the swamps and bayous in palmetto hut villages.
Chief Creppel remembers the stories growing up of the old ways, sayin "my grandmother and grandfather raised me in the bayous in lower Lafitte. Our people use to dig out canoes. Last year at jazz fest I did an demonstration of a dug out canoe. I learned that from my grandfather passed on down to me. We can't be anybody else, other than who we are. It's our job to go out and educate people to let them know that we were the first people here. We are still here and we are not going anywhere and we'll be here until the end of time."
If you want to be like me and experience a belly full of Native American tacos, and in doing so, experience some Houma Nation culture for yourself, there will be a booth at this year's jazz fest.