Isle de Jean Charles

Isle de Jean Charles 001

Isle de Jean Charles 001

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Isle de Jean Charles 002

Edison Dardar fishes with his cast-net every day, bringing in shrimp, fish and crabs from the water around Isle de Jean Charles, where he has lived his entire life. Band of Biloxi-Chitimachas Traditional Chief Albert Naquin has tried to convince the people of his tribe that it would be in their best interest to move off the island. It has been a difficult endeavor. Dardar says he would prefer to stay on the island where his ancestors lived, died and were buried. He was born in a boat on the island. “You can’t have an Isle de Jean Charles near Houma,” he says, referring to a more inland city 25 miles northwest of the island. “You can’t fish in Houma. People from Houma come here to fish with me.”

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Isle de Jean Charles 003

Edison Dardar cast-nets on Island Road on Isle de Jean Charles on August 17, 2013. He was born on the island and says he has no plans on leaving, despite the thrashing the island has endured from hurricanes and coastal erosion.

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Isle de Jean Charles 004

Edison Dardar bikes back to his home after cast-netting on Island Road at Isle de Jean Charles on August 17, 2013. Fifty years ago there was land on both sides of this road, which leads to the mainland.

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Isle de Jean Charles 005

Edison Dardar stands in front of an alter he has made of found things near his home on Isle de Jean Charles.

Edison Dardar walks up his stairs to make lunch from his morning catch.

Edison Dardar walks up his stairs to make lunch from his morning catch.

Edison Dardar walks up his stairs to make lunch from his morning catch.

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Isle de Jean Charles 007

Edison Dardar sits with his dog in his home on Isle de Jean Charles, where he has lived his entire life. His mother gave birth to him on a boat and he is still drawn to the sea.

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Isle de Jean Charles 008

A family photo belonging to Father Roch Naquin taken on Isle de Jean Charles more than 50 years ago. A coastal map made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the 1860s compared with a recent satellite image shows how massive segments of Louisiana land are now underwater. Oil and gas companies have played a big role in destroying that marshy buffer, by digging 10,000 miles of pipeline access canals far inland, killing marsh plants. Without plant roots, the soft, silty soil is washed away. That loss is compounded when a hurricane makes landfall, ripping away land. Sea-level rise accelerates each of the other factors threatening the Isle de Jean Charles, said Louisiana scientist Virginia Burkett, chief scientist for Climate and Land Use Change at the U.S. Geological Survey and a lead author of the coastal chapters of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. That panel won the Nobel Prize. The root of rising sea level is a shift in climate, but that’s not really discussed on the Isle de Jean Charles, said Albert Naquin, chief of the island’s Indian tribe. “Climate change – that’s not part of the island people’s vocabulary,” he said. “We hear it on the news, but that is about as far as it goes.” Excerpt from weather.com story by Katy Reckdahl.

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Isle de Jean Charles 009

Craig Dufrene, of Thibodaux, takes a break from trapping crabs to speak with reporters off of Island Road. He is well aware that the island could be gone in the next 10 years, depending on the path of a hurricane. ìBut those people are born and raised there. They are not going to go," he said. "Thatís just my opinion."

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Isle de Jean Charles 010

Edison Dardar fishes with his cast-net every day, bringing in shrimp, fish and crabs from the water around Isle de Jean Charles, where he has lived his entire life.

A horse grazes on Lower Highway 665 in Montegut, Louisiana near Island Road.

A horse grazes on Lower Highway 665 in Montegut, Louisiana near Island Road.

A horse grazes on Lower Highway 665 in Montegut, Louisiana near Island Road.

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Isle de Jean Charles 012

Father Roch Naquin begins his morning prayers with a sage blessing at his home on Isle de Jean Charles on August 22, 2013. He burned sage, sweetgrass and tobacco to bless the for corners, the heavens and the earth. Smudging is a purifying and repentance ceremony. "The holy smoke that ascends to the heavens is a sign of our prayers and offering ourselves to God," he said. He sends thanks God for all the grace, blessings and gifts he gives to mother earth. He then binds any evil forces that can bring harm to mother earth, such as hurricanes, high tides and strong winds. For the north he prays additionally for the rivers, that they not flood. He then prays to "our grandfather, the heavens. Then mother earth is the last. I greet you great spirit mother earth I thank and praise you for the blessing you receive from our grandfather and pray that you receive them in gratitude and use them always in accordance with his holy will to praise and worship him. That you will use those gifts to bring about peace harmony and justice in the world. I greet you spirit of our grandfather. I thank and praise you for all the grace the blessing the gifts you bestow upon mother earth and I pray that you continue to have pity upon us and bless us with all the gifts we need to praise you. And that your gifts will work with all the gifts of the earth to bring about peace unity and justice in the world."

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Isle de Jean Charles 013

Children wait to enter a mass being held to celebrate a Native American Naming Ceremony in 2013. It was held at St Charles Catholic Church in Pointe-aux-Chenes, Louisiana. Before the mass, tribal members from Pointe-au-Chien and Isle de Jean Charles gathered around a fire outside the church for a ceremony in which Chief Albert Naquin spoke to each member their Indian name, symbolizing their commitment to their tribe.

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Isle de Jean Charles 014

Families gather outside of St Charles Catholic Church in Pointe-aux-Chenes, Louisiana, just after a Native American naming ceremony took place.

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Isle de Jean Charles 015

Alton Vernon stands near the Pointe-aux-Chenes Marina, just down the way from Isle de Jean Charles. At one point oak trees lined Isle de Jean Charles, which was about 5 by 10 to 12 miles over 50 years ago according to Band of Biloxi-Chitimachas Traditional Chief Albert Naquin, who grew up on the island. "That land where we were trapping is now for fishing, shrimping and crabbing with a boat," he said. "The land we used to walk on is now just a waterway for our boats." Chief Naquin said the changes in their homestead were caused by oil companies digging the canals and subsequently the hurricanes wiping away the compromised land.

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Isle de Jean Charles 016

A family tree hangs on Rebecca Dardar's home below a last supper image. Dardar lived on the island for 12 years with her late husband, island native Alexander Billiot Jr. and still visits it with her second husband, Thomas Dardar, who also came from an island family. Dardar concedes that the need for water may seem odd to people who have heard about the flooding in this part of south Louisiana. “But even though the water is chasing everyone away, I think it’s necessary: It needs water,” Dardar says. Excerpt from weather.com story by Katy Reckdahl.

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Isle de Jean Charles 017

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Isle de Jean Charles 018

Bayah Bergeron, 3, left, and her cousin Riley Walker, 3, play behind Bayah's house on Isle de Jean Charles on August 17, 2013.

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Isle de Jean Charles 019

Trees void of leaves and life hang on to tiny strips of land surrounding Isle de Jean Charles. At one point oak trees lined the island, which was about 5 by 10 to 12 miles over 50 years ago according to Band of Biloxi-Chitimachas Traditional Chief Albert Naquin, who grew up on the island. "That land where we were trapping is now for fishing, shrimping and crabbing with a boat," he said. "The land we used to walk on is now just a waterway for our boats." Chief Naquin said the changes in their homestead were caused by oil companies digging the canals and subsequently the hurricanes wiping away the compromised land.

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Isle de Jean Charles 020

Daniel White IV, 3, takes a look at a crab caught by his god mother Brenda Billiot, both of Bourg, as they fish off of Island Road at Isle de Jean Charles on August 17, 2013.

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Isle de Jean Charles 021

Alexis Lirette, 12, back left, Angel Authement, 10, back right, Alexis' sister Carissa Lirette, 8, front left, and Carissa's cousin Chelsey Lirette, 9, right, play a clapping game on a walkway over a canal where the girls live on Isle de Jean Charles on August 17, 2013.

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Isle de Jean Charles 022

Island Road, which leads to Isle de Jean Charles 50 years ago was surrounded by land. Oak trees lined the island which was about 5 by 10 to 12 miles at the time according to Band of Biloxi-Chitimachas Traditional Chief Albert Naquin, who grew up on the island. "That land where we were trapping is now for fishing, shrimping and crabbing with a boat," he said. "The land we used to walk on is now just a waterway for our boats." Chief Naquin said the changes in their homestead were caused by oil companies digging the canals and subsequently the hurricanes wiping away the compromised land.

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Isle de Jean Charles 023

Band of Biloxi-Chitimachas Traditional Chief Albert Naquin said in 2008 hurricane Gustav destroyed almost half of the 54 homes on Isle de Jean Charles. Chief Naquin moved to a nearby town some years ago. He said the depletion of the land were caused by oil companies digging the canals and then the hurricanes wiping away much of the compromised land.

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Isle de Jean Charles 024

Crawfish meals are sold during a community gathering in Pointe-aux-Chenes, Louisiana.

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Isle de Jean Charles 025

Chief Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, hugs a relative during a community gathering in Pointe-aux-Chenes, Louisiana.

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Isle de Jean Charles 026

Wenceslaus Billiot speaks to reporters on his porch on Isle de Jean Charles. Almost 90, he has lived on the island his entire life. He doesnít wish to leave, but knows he may have to eventually. Billiot and his wife raised their seven children in the house that Billiot built himself, though it is now raised 13.5 feet off the ground.

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Isle de Jean Charles 027

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Isle de Jean Charles 028

Wenceslaus Billiot stands on his porch on Isle de Jean Charles. Almost 90, he has lived on the island his entire life. Billiot can trace his family history back to Laski Billiot, “a real Frenchman,” who married an Indian woman and moved to the island.

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Isle de Jean Charles 029

Edison Dardar attached two handwritten signs conveying his sentiments on the opposite side of the road from his home Island Road. ìIsland is not for sale Ö Donít give up. Fight for your rights. Itís worth saving,î reads one sign. The other starts with Dardarís position on the relocation plan ó ìWe are not moving off this islandî ó and ends a more poetic negation of the threats that the island faces: ìThey say the island is fading away. Soon we will not have an island left. If the island is not good, stay away. May God bless the island.î

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Isle de Jean Charles 030

Hilton Chaisson, 68, an oyster fisherman and shrimper who lives in a low-lying house on the island, leaned against his longtime porch and shook his head when asked about the relocation from the place heís lived his entire life. ìIím happy here,î he says. ìNo one bothers me. So Iím not interested in leaving.î

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Isle de Jean Charles 031

Thanks to a federal grant that made them the nation’s first “climate refugees,” the people of Isle de Jean Charles will be given a chance to move to higher ground, away from the rising water that threatens their two-century-old Gulf Coast community. But residents say that they only feel at home when they are near water and family. Can their new community provide both?

Isle de Jean Charles

Photography by Kathleen Flynn

Images and text © Tampa Bay Times & NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune - Presented for Portfolio Purposes Only

Island Road, which leads to Isle de Jean Charles 50 years ago was surrounded by land. Oak trees lined the island which was about 5 by 10 to 12 miles at the time according to Band of Biloxi-Chitimachas Traditional Chief Albert Naquin, who grew up on the island. "That land where we were trapping is now for fishing, shrimping and crabbing with a boat," he said. 

"The land we used to walk on is now just a waterway for our boats." Chief Naquin said the changes in their homestead were caused by oil companies digging the canals and subsequently the hurricanes wiping away the compromised land.

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