Currently situated on 260 acres of land in South Central Louisiana, the Chitimacha bear the distinction of being the only Louisiana Indians known to live presently in their ancestral homeland.
Prior to the arrival of the European settlers, the Chitimacha were numerous and considered one of the most powerful tribes of the Gulf coast west of Florida. As reflected in their diet of fish, the roots of native plants maize, and sweet potatoes, the Chitimacha were an agricultural and self-sufficient people. They obtained a highly developed political system that allowed women to participate in tribal affairs and occasionally elevate to the status of chief, an honor that was extremely rare among other Native American tribes. While women were able to participate in governmental duties, religious affairs were the sole responsibility of men.
At the turn of the eighteenth century, the Chitimachas occupied most of the delta region below New Orleans and belonged to an association of approximately fifteen village communities with a collective population of more than 3,000. The area they occupied, the lower Mississippi River, was also desired by the French for commercial trade purposes. Shared interest in this territory led to a twelve-year war, commencing in 1706. The Chitimachas entered into a severe period of decline as many members of their tribe became war captives who were forced into colonial services as slaves. Despite a myriad of hardships, the Chitimacha Indians survived and unlike the majority of North American Indians, were never forced to relocate.
Their tribal membership toady is estimated at 725 people, with approximately 300 residing on the Atchafalya Basin in the community of Charenton, Louisiana. The Department of Interior recognized and accepted the Chitimacha constitution and by-laws on January 14, 1971, thereby making the Chitimacha the first organized tribe in Louisiana and the only federally recognized Indian tribe native to Louisiana.
by Alana A. Carmon