In one of the first manifestations of the ultimate outcome of climate change, the migration of people away from current coastlines, a Native American tribe in the state of Louisiana is to be resettled.
The small community in coastal Louisiana is to be resettled after losing nearly all its land partly due to rising seas, a first in the United States.
This is the first time an entire community has had to be relocated due in part to rising sea levels, said Marion McFadden, a spokesperson for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw have lived and fished on the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana’s coastal south since the 1800s, a tribe’s spokesman said.
However, land loss has caused the island to shrink from some 6070 hectares to a strip of about a 400 metres wide by a 800m long, a study by Northern Arizona University shows.
From a peak of some 400 inhabitants, only around 100 remain.
The loss of land to the sea and houses to hurricanes have caused families to leave, said Boyo Billiot, the tribe’s deputy chief said in a telephone briefing to reporters.
“We are people of the bayou. Water has played a central role in who we are.”
Climate advocacy group Climate Nexus said the relocation of the tribe was creating new “refugees” of climate change.
Reuters reports Louisiana and federal government officials offered a different interpretation.
“We really don’t think of the community as refugees. I think of refugees as being scattered and chaotic retreat. This is a resettlement and we are careful to use that word,” said Patrick Forbes, a Louisiana state official.
Louisiana’s coast has been sinking at a fast pace compared to most US coastal areas, a phenomenon officials attribute to sea levels rise but also erosion, the official said.
Sea levels have already risen by some 20 centimetres in coastal Louisiana over the past 50 years or so.
According to a 2014 US government report, as global sea levels continue to rise, relative sea leave rise will be greater along some coasts such as in Louisiana and Texas.
The continuous decline of the band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw population has been threatening the tribe’s ancestral traditions, including those related to fishing such as the weaving of catch nets.
Reflecting on the tribe’s attachment to Isle de Jean Charles, he recalled his late grandfather’s prophetic words.
“He said: ‘The people will have to leave from the island’. But he said you all don’t disturb the dead that are buried there because now a lot are in the water where the graves were at.”