Isle de Jean Charles, located in the southern Louisiana Bayou, is home to the Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. The island is quickly vanishing due to environmental problems from coastal erosion to canals dredged in the nearby marshland by oil and gas companies. These problems are further exasperated by a rising sea level. In 2016, the state used 48 million in grants to resettle 100 members of the island’s Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe. Many residents say that after a heavy storm surge or hurricane, few are able to leave the island for safety.
After the ongoing curves we arrived on Island road. It was a thin strip, a two-way road, on the same level as the water. It became pertinent that I stayed glued to the left. If I glided too much to the right I would be driving over the gulf of Mexico, and sinking slowly. The two-way road was still somewhat spacious, though there were often large puddles of water. I drove on the opposite lane for fear of getting into a deep puddle or splashing the people fishing on the sides of the road. In front of me, I saw that half the road was covered in the water, but I figured the jeep could handle it, so I passed along carefully.
The sky was its truest blue with only a few white clouds hanging lazily in the background. On both sides of the road endless water and the land was protected by rocks and gravel. This was no time to drive fast, since it meant heading directly into water. We drove down, wondering where we could park. We passed a submarine and a sign that read “We’re not moving off this Island. If some people want to move, they can go. But leave us alone. The people have the right to live where they want, not where people tell them to go and live…”
Here the roads were wider and there was little flooding. There was a faded light pink house on high stilts with a long staircase on the side. “The water must get that high,” my partner said. I wondered if anyone lived in these houses, if they just came on weekends or, if they abandoned them to the gulf.
There wasn’t anyone walking in the street. We stopped where it said Dead End, since up ahead the road had been thoroughly covered by water. It did not appear deep, but I did not see any land after that point. It could be the road was only just below the water, but I didn’t want to risk it. Other cars stopped at that point too, thinking they would cross, but then they weren’t sure so they headed back. Later on I saw two bicyclists without backpacks or water bottles, which meant they had come from nearby. “These people came by bike all the way from New Orleans,” I told my partner laughing.
We walked around for a short while over a small hill on the right, which left us by an open body of water. I used my binoculars to spot birds. All I could see were Red-winged Blackbirds flying above us. Two men were revving up their small motorboat. I stared at them through my binoculars then waved and they waved back. We walked to a blue house with a sign in the front that had a fish. I couldn’t see much else from where I was standing. We passed the parking lot, and made out something about fishing hooks on the sign. We decided to check it out. For the most part everyone on the road and around here had been friendly. We went up the stairs, hoping to find food or at least directions.
At the top of the staircase, we saw some long tables and chairs. No one was around except two or three men. One of them came toward us, said hello and shook our hands. He had a calming and honest quality about him, and his eyes told me he meant what he said. He introduced himself as Theo. He was bald and wore a white shirt. “I was wondering if y’all were going to continue driving.” I told him we left our car just past the parking lot. Storm Cindy had passed a couple of days ago so we wondered if they had any major flooding. Theo said that there was two feet of water by Island road and down the road after the Dead End sign. “How long have you been living here?” I asked. He said he had been in the island for 80 years, but lived in Houma now, and only came back to take care of his father’s house. Theo looked younger than 80.