The most at-risk people of the Louisiana coast are traditional fishing communities who are facing a multitude of challenges due to impacts of climate and severe land-loss, complicated by prejudice and by historical political structures of violence and exclusion. We have found it useful to engage in work that weaves itself through multiple issues thus lessening the burden of working in silos. It is difficult to address one issue without understanding its context and interconnectedness to all the others. In the grassroots activism of this collective of communities and friends, energy and water are core issues common to each.
Electrical power, potable water and oil/fuel are contentious issues for the lower bayou communities of coastal Louisiana. The communities that are impacted by oil are also complexly involved with the economy of oil, from extraction to its refining; similar to the dilemma facing many that advocate for cleaner renewable energy, but find it difficult to ween from the use of petroleum and its products. Once oil and gas became part of the massive industrial complex of the region, local Historied and Tribal communities and their lifeways became sacrificial, and little was done to correct and combat the multitude of environmental abuses.
Having access to energy for homes, for fishing boats (oysters, shrimp, and crabs) and ice for storage of catch is necessary. Impacting storms that disrupt the energy supply to the lower bayou communities result in power outages that become more frequent and for longer extended periods of time. Companies that supply energy to the region are responding to the difficult situation by either not restoring some of their services or placing a burdensome surcharge on each household/business.
Subsistence living offered by the richness of land and the generous bounty of the waters are being hindered by rapidly disappearing lands and changes of water dynamics. Water that was once fresh and used for personal and agricultural uses is now brackish and turning to salt water at an increasingly fast rate. This changes the estuaries, it diminishes the agricultural possibilities and it makes drinkable water in short supply.
The Tribes are looking at creative ways of food production and soil abatement. The communities are continuing to build and expand political capacity while also working on the layers of diverse issues enmeshed in everyday life. The Tribes are also strengthening culture, discussing adaptation to climate and utilizing traditional knowledges to co-manage their living environment.
Alternative energy sources are one key element that offers hope of stability for the communities. For many years several of the coastal Tribes have talked about energy independence and sought ways to achieve such status. It is important that the alternatives to energy are affordable, easy to operate and are location appropriate. The most recent exploration on energy independence has been wind energy through the development of wind turbines. The wind turbine project provides an affordable source and is reproducible by community members.
Recently a group of 6 people from 3 Coastal Tribes traveled to North Carolina to be part of a wind turbine workshop. The goal was to build a wind turbine that will be placed at the Pointe au Chien Tribal center greenhouse. Learning the process was as important as the outcome. Each member of the team learned skills needed to produce the turbine, thus having working knowledge to replicate their creation. Handy Village Institute was the host for the workshop. The goal of our coastal communities is to host the next workshop in Louisiana so that more people from the Tribes can learn how to build a turbine, thus creating more turbines, resulting in more energy sustainability for the coastal communities.
As each community begins to build additional turbines, the community will become its own hub for energy; knowing how to create it, repair it, and rebuild it. This will be a vital component for each community’s ability to adapt to clean energy and other related issues. Eventually this ‘homegrown energy source’ could build into localized energy cooperatives and small business ventures for each of the Tribal communities, offering them not only energy but also a small source of revenues. We are proposing that the next workshop be held in Louisiana. After the initial Louisiana workshop, the communities can start production with the knowledge accrued and create a small production process for their own communities.
The following are additional testimonials from the April 2018 training week long workshop: