Grand Bayou Indian Village

Atakapa-Ishak/Chawasha tribal members live in the Grand Bayou Indian Village (“Grand Bayou”), a remote Native American community in Plaquemines Parish, in Southeast Louisiana. It is one of the few tribal communities accessible only by boat and whose residents remain committed to living as their forebears did — fishing, shrimping, oystering, crabbing, and trapping. However, in the past several decades, Grand Bayou has lost a significant amount of land due to a combination of manmade interventions, low elevation, land subsidence, and climate change. These disasters have stripped the community of essential defenses against storm surge and flooding, as well as vital economic, cultural, and social resources.

Grand Bayou faces multiple obstacles in its fight for ecological survival and environmental justice

Marsh Restoration at Grand Bayou Indian Village will support the Atakapa-Ishak/Chawasha tribal members in their efforts to mitigate the impacts of coastal land loss and climate change and gain agency in their fight to remain intact as a tribal community.

In 2005, prompted by Hurricane Katrina’s devastating impact, the Louisiana Legislature created the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to coordinate local, state, and federal efforts to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of continued land loss, climate change, and sea rise. CPRA developed Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast (“Coastal Master Plan”) to guide the actions needed to sustain the coastal ecosystem, safeguard coastal populations, and protect Louisiana’s economic and cultural resources. The Coastal Master Plan is approved every five years, most recently in 2017. The $50 billion 2017 Coastal Master Plan includes large-scale engineering projects, risk-reduction strategies for communities facing increased flooding, and native vegetation plantings. The focus is on projects that will withstand sea-level rise and subsidence and protect the greatest number of people.

The 2017 Master Coastal Plan essentially ignores Grand Bayou – offering no protection or solutions. Because Grand Bayou is outside the protection of the state’s levee systems, there are no resources or a long-term vision to help the community remain an intact village as the surrounding wetlands continue to erode. Nor are there any recommendations for relocation, which may be the only option for the Grand Bayou community. Because the Atakapa-Ishak/Chawasha tribal community lacks federal recognition, members were not included in planning discussions for the 2017 Coastal Master Plan. As a result, they do not have access to resources that enable the community to become resilient to the effects of climate change, subsistent, and sustainable for future generations.

Common Ground Relief’s resources combined with Grand Bayou’s expertise and knowledge

Marsh Restoration at Grand Bayou Indian Village combines Common Ground Relief’s resources – native grasses, volunteer labor, programmatic coordination, and relationships with relevant state entities – with Grand Bayou’s expertise and knowledge to create living shorelines by planting 6,000 plugs of smooth cordgrass, a salt-resistant native marsh grass along damaged shorelines and in newly flooded land; establish plans for sustained plantings that the Grand Bayou community can undertake beyond the term of the grant; and support ongoing dialogues between the Grand Bayou community, planting partners, and local, state, and federal agencies to address the impacts of climate change and environmental racism.

Marsh restoration and native plant stewardship are integral to the long-term viability of Louisiana’s coast and the most accessible forms of wetlands restoration. They require minimal equipment and cost compared to larger infrastructure projects. The 2017 Coastal Master Plan recognizes native vegetative restoration projects as an effective method to build land and support productive habitats for commercially and recreationally important activities.

In addition to the environmental impact, community-based restoration projects have positive social-emotional outcomes

For many indigenous communities, environmental health and human health are deeply intertwined – factoring in social cohesion and traditional food security. Planting marsh grasses to retain land is an accessible way for community members to directly participate in protecting their homes and built environments. Additionally, native plant life plays an important cultural role in Grand Bayou. Restoring native plants while community members rebuild their homes will be an important investment in recovery from Hurricane Ida.

This Marsh Restoration at Grand Bayou Indian Village aligns with the deep ties that the Atakapa-Ishak/Chawasha tribal community has with their home, community, land, and water. Building living shorelines is an effective community-driven solution for mitigating the impacts of climate change, protecting their heritage, and building environmental, economic, and social resilience.