(BILOXI, Mississippi) – Members of the Gulf of Mexico Climate Outreach Community of Practice have selected the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, as the recipient of the 2016 Spirit of Community Award in in the community category.
The Climate Outreach Community of Practice is made up of more than 300 education, outreach and extension professionals, as well as community leaders and planners, whose work includes contributing to the resilience of coastal communities. The group learns from each other about how coastal communities are adapting to sea-level rise, precipitation changes and other climate-related issues.
Each year, the group selects Spirit of Community Award winners in two categories: individual and community. The awards recognize outstanding leadership in climate adaptation planning and education.
The Spirit of Community Award criteria include a demonstrated knowledge of climate vulnerabilities and a desire to take action, engagement of local community members with climate information and promotion of climate awareness and education.
Matt Bethel, the Louisiana Sea Grant assistant executive director of research, nominated the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians for the award. According to his nomination, the tribe has worked for 30 years to achieve resettlement from their home. The Terrebonne Parish community, located about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, has lost nearly all of its land to canal dredging for oil and gas pipelines, hurricanes, subsidence and sea-level rise.
Isle de Jean Charles was awarded a $52 million grant in January from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Disaster Resilience Competition to relocate the community, said Kristina Peterson with Lowlander Center, which helped them apply for the grant.
The tribe has had meetings and conversations over many years, and it agrees that resettlement is the best option to enable their community and their culture to survive, the nomination said. They have continuously increased their knowledge about the causes of their land loss and engaged their community in the decision-making process. Plans for their new community include being a model to other communities for best practices ranging from cultural sustainability and reinvigoration to encompassing best green practices in their buildings and infrastructure.
"I hope it sets an example that people can see when we are finished," said Deputy Chief Wenceslaus Billiot of the tribe.
Chief Albert Naquin said he did not expect to be recognized by the Climate Outreach Community of Practice for his tribe's efforts.
"I never expected anything," he said. "We do it for the love of the people."
Bethel said the project brings many lessons that can help communities in the future.
“The process of planning and implementation for this resettlement is contributing to the Climate Community of Practice,” Bethel said.