Life Before the Oil - AJ

Life Before the Oil

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44 years Donald and Teresa Dardar have been together. They are a couple strong in their commitment to each other, the life they live, the waters that provide for them and the land they love.

44 years Donald and Teresa Dardar have been together. They are a couple strong in their commitment to each other, the life they live, the waters that provide for them and the land they love.

For Teresa, life before the great oil spill meant getting up at 5 am to work as Donald’s deck hand on their small family fishing boat. Crab’n, shrimp’n, and fish’n was all they did from dusk till dawn and seafood was all they ate. Red meat and even chicken were foreign foods to them. A freezer full of beans and mustard plants supplemented their diets in a healthy way. “We only ate from the waters; seafood was it” says Theresa. They came home at dusk every night and there would still be housework to be done for Teresa, and gardening for Donald – by flashlight at times! It was hard, but it was a good life.

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico changed everything. This was the biggest oil spill in U.S. history – over 87 days, 200 million gallons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf and polluted 16,000 miles of coastline.

Charlie Verdin, a natural leader in the Pointe-Au-Chien tribe, was also a shrimper. Like many of the fishermen of Pointe-Au-Chien, 35 years of shrimping made the water a part of Charlie’s DNA. But he had to leave this life after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It is a difficult life to leave, but families have to be fed and providing tug boat services to oil companies is the work that’s available.  

The bayou at Pointe-au-Chien is a place where the spirits live on the waters.  You can feel their presence out on the waters by the original settlements. Today the ancestors’ graves are slowly sinking into the Gulf with only a cross to mark the location. They are all gone to the spirit world with many of their descendants living up the bayou. Many began leaving their isolated coastline for the luxuries of modern society in the late 1800’s. Charlie’s ancestors lived and died there, but as the bayou changed, his people moved to the main settlement. Today you can still see his childhood home. Not much has changed except it has been raised and now sits atop of 12” poles to keep it dry when the waters come, and they do come because of oil exploration and development that opens up channels in the bayou. There are also the increasingly intense hurricanes.

And then the oil came…and everything changed. The Pointe-Au-Chien had to learn to eat chicken and red meat. They couldn’t eat the seafood – none of it. Everything was covered in oil. If you ate it, you got sick.  The people had to struggle, supporting each other in this tiny community of 700, called the Pointe-Au-Chien Indian Tribe of the Louisiana Bayou.

The Bayou itself has changed. Gone are the huge cypress trees, and today only deadwood stumps remain. The lush biodiversity has given way to coastal grasses and rushes. The Bayou has forever changed, but people have filled the space with a show of strength, unity and peace. These values are universal among Native Americans; something we give thanks for every day.

My time with the Pointe-Au-Chien Tribe visiting, planting corn, sharing, and listening to their story ignited a connection in me. A connection that is ignited every time I visit with my extended Nation families, a fire that comes again. This poem is to the Pointe-Au-Chien Tribe. From my heart to yours:

AND THEN THE OIL CAME…

And then the boats came,

And then the soldiers came,

And then the disease came,

And then the slaughter came,

And then the flour came,

And then the schools came,

And then the oil came,

And then we came…again

Chairman Charlie Verdin, a longtime natural leader and fisherman of the Pointe-Au-Chien Tribe of the Louisiana, Bayou. Chairman Verdin graciously took us out on his boat and was all smiles as we passed his childhood home, just in front of him. The home has gone through many floods and repairs and today sits up high after his aunt was able to have it raised.

Elder Theresa Dardar of the Pointe-Au-Chien Tribe shares a recipe with Seedkeeper Terrylynn Brant of Six Nations of the Grand River.

With students from Wilfrid Laurier University, Mohawk Seedkeeper Terrylynn Brant was able to share some Indigenous planting knowledge as they planted the remaining section of the Pointe-Au-Chien Tribe’s garden. 

Having seafood is only a dream when you have the best fisherman and cooks the Gulf can provide. These skills have been born into the Pointe-Au-Chien for many generations. This Gulf Coastline Tribe ate entirely from the waters: fish, shrimp, crawfish before the oil came. The effects of the oil spills were instant and changed their diet forever.

The ancestral homelands and cemetery of the Pointe-Au-Chien Tribe are now abandoned due to rising sea levels.  Only a cross marks its location. These people are still a part of the living memory of families who can only watch as their graves erode into the sea. Where else in Canada or the USA does this happen?

 

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