ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES, LA. (WGNO) — Tucked away in the bayous and canals of southern Terrebonne Parish sits Isle de Jean Charles, an island that’s been the home of the Jean Charles Choctaw Indians for nearly 200 years.
“It gives me a great sense of belonging because we’ve been over here for so many generations, it’s where I belong,” said Chris Brunet, a tribe member and lifelong resident of Isle de Jean Charles.
For Brunet, the island has always been a piece of paradise.
“The setting, the scenery, and also the serenity, you know? Maybe somebody from out of town would look at this as bored and mundane, but it’s not. It’s something that we’re used to and you want it to be that way,” said Brunet.
Over the decades, climate change, hurricanes and rising sea levels have battered the island. Isle de Jean Charles, which once consisted of 22,000 acres, has dwindled down to 320 acres.
“Where we used to trap for fur animals, now it’s open water, and if it wouldn’t be for the road, it would just be the island,” said Chief Albert Naquin of the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation.
In an effort to keep Isle de Jean Charles residents safe, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted more than $48 million for a voluntary relocation. New homes for the residents are close to completion near Houma. The subdivision is more inland, which will keep the tribe safer during storms.
“I didn’t want to move either, but it’s the choice you have to make. If you want to keep fighting the hurricane, but you gotta’ rebuild and rebuild and rebuild and that costs money,” said Chief Naquin.
It’s a change of life for the Isle de Jean Charles Choctaw Indians, a life many are apprehensive about leaving behind.
But dozens residents, like Brunet, have made the decision to start a new chapter.
“Eventually, I’ll wind up settling in, and maybe call it home one day. I know it’s a house where I’m going, but eventually, you know, I just might call it home one day,” said Brunet.
The first families from Isle de Jean Charles will move into their new homes tomorrow. We’ll show you where they’re moving and find out how they feel about their new homes — and their new way of life.