Our Community: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. . .
The Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribal Community is located in lower Pointe-au-Chien, a traditional village of their ancestors, the Chitimacha. The Pointe-au-Chien Indians also descend from the Biloxi, Acolapissa, and Atakapas Indians. The Tribe has approximately 800 members.
The Pointe-au-Chien inhabit the southern part of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes along Bayou Pointe-au-Chien. The Pointe-au-Chien are the caretakers of an area continuously inhabited by indigenous tribes of South Louisiana, and descend from tribes historical to Louisiana and the Mississippi River Valley. This small French-speaking tribe continues to comprise a distinct community despite colonization, land loss, lack of status as a federally recognized tribe, exploitation of the land and people, and denial of educational opportunities. The perseverance, ability to adapt, humility, and cultural knowledge of its people have sustained the Tribe.
During the early Twentieth Century, anthropologists made assumptions about the ancestry of PACIT and other Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish Indians. These assumptions were based primarily on published accounts that leave gaps in southern Louisiana Indian history from the French colonial period to the American period. These theories have impacted the Tribe's efforts to obtain Federal Recognition.
During anthropologist John Swanton's visit to Pointe-au-Chien in 1907, he interviewed several Pointe-au-Chien people regarding their first-hand knowledge of their tribal ancestry. Felicite Billiot (ca. 1828-ca. 1916) described her brother, Alexander Billiot, (1817-1900) as Chief of the Chitimachas. She also informed Swanton that Benjamin Paul, a leader from the Chitimacha in Charenton, would come to Pointe-au-Chien to teach the Chitimacha language. Felicite told Swanton that her grandfather was Courteau, a Biloximedal chief, and her grandmother was an Acolopissa Indian born near Mobile. Bathelemy Billiot (b. 1834 – death unk.) told Swanton that his grandfather was Shulu Shumon, a medal chief from Biloxi, and his grandmother was an Attakapas Indian.
In 1911, Swanton described the Indians of the Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes as a "remnant of the [Houma] tribe, mixed with other Indian peoples," including the remains of the Bayougoula and the Acolopissa, Biloxi, Chitimatcha, the remnants of the Washa and Chawasha, and "individuals from a number of other Louisiana and Mississippi peoples." Swanton assumed that Shulu Shumon and Courteau were the same man, but this is incorrect. Swanton's theories have had the greatest impact on the mislabeling and misunderstanding of PACIT. Swanton failed to reconcile his theories with the self-identification and oral histories provided by the Pointe-au-Chien people.
Ten years after Swanton's visit, anthropologist David Bushnell, Jr. visited Pointe-au-Chien. He described the village of Pointe-au-Chien as including several Chitimacha families. Abel Billiot (ca. 1853 – death unk.), who self-identified as a Chitimacha from Pointe-au-Chien, served as Bushnell's informant. Following his field work in Pointe-au-Chien, Bushnell wrote "The Chitimacha of Bayou La Fourche, Louisiana," describing the mannerisms and customs of the people of Pointe-au-Chien. He noted that the Indians "claim to be of Chitimacha descent, although they know some of their ancestors to have been Houma."
There is no book that describes an accurate history of the PACIT and little attention has been paid to this tribe's history. Like many Indians in the Southeast, PACIT's ancestors were impacted by slavery, the introduction of alcohol, the political jarring between European powers, white settlement, and disease. Indians moved throughout the Mississippi River Valley and interacted with each other. As a result, PACIT descends from multiple ancestors and tribes that came together in Terrebonne Parish.
Culture and Lifestyle
PACIT members inhabit land that was once very fertile, and some Pointe-au-Chien Indians lived miles further south along the bayou than now possible. While the heart of PACIT remains along lower Bayou Pointe-au-Chien, tribal members have had to move in order to adapt to salt water intrusion and the rapid land loss in recent years. The once fertile land provided nourishment for the Indians.
Historically, Pointe-Au-Chien ancestors were farmers, fishermen, and hunters. Tribal leader Alexander Billiot and his brother had a lucrative sugarcane farm during the 1850s. The sugarcane operations were so successful that the brothers were able to sell sugar in New Orleans. The Pointe-au-Chien also raised corn, beans, potatoes, field peas, cucumbers, and watermelons. Unfortunately, the ability to farm today is impaired because of salt-water intrusion., but individuals continue to maintain personal gardens. Pointe-Au-Chien Indians continue to live off of the land and water by hunting alligators, fishing, and catching shrimp, crabs and oysters.
In addition to agriculture, the Pointe-au-Chien had cattle, hunted and trapped various animals, and fished oysters, shrimp, and crabs. Few Pointe-au-Chien continue to raise cattle due to the loss of land and salt water intrusion, but commercial fishing is a primary occupation for many PACIT men, and some women. Trapping has become unprofitable, though some tribal members still hunt alligators.
Until the first half of the 1900s, the Pointe-au-Chien lived in palmetto houses and were segregated from the nonIndian community. Most PACIT members over the age of sixty were born at home with the assistance of a mid-wife. Treateurs (treaters or healers) treated sicknesses through the use of traditional plants or prayers.
Because of policies in place by the State of Louisiana and United States government, Indians from Pointe-Au-Chien were prohibited from attending high school until the late 1960's and early 1970's. These policies have had a direct impact on the ability of tribal members and the Tribe to advance in areas of education, economics, and healthcare. The Tribe is seeking to reverse these past policies by obtaining state and federal recognition to provide services to assist its people.
Tribal members continue to inhabit the land, which is governed by familial kinship systems. The PACIT community is not protected by a levee and land loss has increased dramatically in recent years. The accelerated land loss can be attributed to the increased salinization of the water, the reduction of the barrier islands, and the lack of fresh water replenishing the soil. These factors leave Pointe-au-Chien vulnerable to flooding.
Multiple hurricanes have caused severe damage to homes in the past fifteen years. The most notable are Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Hurricane Lili in 2002, and back-to-back storms in 2005 and 2008. In 2005, the PACIT community suffered wind damage from Hurricane Katrina and an eight-foot storm surge caused by from Hurricane Rita. In 2008, the eye of Hurricane Gustav passed to the west of Pointe-au-Chien causing extreme wind and water damage to homes, and flood waters from Hurricane Ike caused another eight-foot storm surge in some parts of the Community. Tribal members are adapting to the changing nature of their land by raising their homes, some as high as thirteen feet.
Kinship relations have traditionally governed the Pointe-Au-Chien Indian Community. In 1993, the Tribe adopted a Constitution and filed its Articles of Incorporation with the Louisiana Secretary of State.
In 1996, the Tribe submitted a petition for federal acknowledgment with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe is currently preparing documentation to support its petition. The cost of preparing a petition is expensive and has cost tribes anywhere from $500,000 to $9,000,000 to prepare a petition. Because of the petition, the Tribe formally incorporated as a 501(c)(3) to become eligible for donations, grants, and other assistance in documenting its history, culture, and traditions and in preparing other petition criteria.
With the adoption of a Constitution, the Tribe formalized its governing body through elections by the tribal membership. The Tribe is governed by an Executive Body, the Tribal Council and Council of Elders.
Written by Patty Ferguson, adapted from submission to KNOWLA in 2009 on the Pointe-au-Chien Indians.
 See Westerman, Audrey, "The Indians of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes" 2001 <http://www.biloxi-chitimacha.com/history.htm>.
 Swanton, John, Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent coast of the Gulf of Mexico (Washington D.C.: GPO, 1911) 291.
 Id. at 292.
 Bushnell, David, "The Chitimacha of Bayou Lafourche, Louisiana," Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 7 (1917) 302.
Did you know that the Pointe au Chien Indian people along with other Bayou Indian tribes heavily influenced the development of Cajun culture of Louisiana? ...Food for Thought.