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Hurricane Ida and the tribes in its path, a synopsis

From left to right: Academy Award nominated director Josh Fox, Uncle BaeBae of the PACIT tribe, photojournalist Sebastiano Tomada, and scientist/whistleblower Rebekah Jones assess changes along the Pointe aux Chenes Bayou. May 2021. Photo Credit: Josh Fox.

Note: The content and maps linked throughout this article are of my own and original design. Some of the included materials are drafts and/or have been partially redacted to respect tribal autonomy and privacy. I started working with tribal communities in 2014 and continue to work with them today, primarily the Isle de Jean Charles. The maps and educational items shown here were part of a project designed to tell the stories of these communities through their own eyes, using science and data to illustrate the lived experiences of the people there, and to educate those inside and outside of the tribe of the changes they have experienced.

I’ve been working with tribes along the Louisiana coast for about six-and-a-half years now.

My most recent trip out caught me up with the continued changes across the region. We met with Chief Albert Naquin, took the boat out to some of the tribal lands, and spoke with members of the two tribes living there who grieve for what has been lost and worry for what will one day be taken.

The day that the rest is taken could very well be today — August 29, 2021. Sixteen years to the day since Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi coast and changed my life forever.

I flew down a few months ago (late May 2021) as part of a trip making a documentary film about me and the anti-science movement that has held our country (especially the deep south) hostage during the pandemic. From climate change to infectious disease, the stranglehold that autocrats like Florida Governor Ron Desantis have put on science and truth (and the people who tell it) has cost us hundreds of thousands of lives.

Video: The ghost forests of Pointe aux Chenes Bayou, Louisiana.

The tribes' histories highlight the anti-science, mostly industry-driven movement in denying climate change and its respective impacts on communities. The processes that lead to coastal land loss at such a massive and rapid scale range from the hyper-local to the global.

My job was identify what the tribe viewed as their vulnerability, sustainability and adaptability features to climate change (all buzzwords that are grossly over-used).

I worked with the tribes to pair their experiences with available data, and help them plan for the future, which included the data models I built to improve storm surge forecasting under future sea level and land loss scenarios.

As a climate and hurricane subject-matter expert, my job was to research what has changed, model what will change, and help the tribe plan for it before it's too late.

The two tribes that live there - PACIT and IDJC - have been fighting a losing battle for federal recognition for decades. While both are state-recognized tribes in Louisiana, the resources and funding allocated across federally-recognized tribes could have allowed them to put in additional storm protections that they currently lack. When I was working as a coastal scientist with the state of Louisiana, IDJC were cut out of the levee plan and left vulnerable outside of the state's multi-billion dollar project. A storm hitting from this direction, in this location, with the strength could destroy what's left of an already-disappearing island. I've worked with both tribes, and documented their history through their own eyes. I've kept in touch with IDJC Chief Albert Naquin - in fact, we visited him and the island just a few months ago. He’s worried for his people and for what this storm might bring with it even after the water subsides.

You can see a bit of what's happened through the years from this older application I created back in 2015/2016. When the message pops up to sign in, just click "ok." You can minimize the login window and explore the map (sorry — old tech so it’s desktop only at the moment):

Remember, if we don't elect scientists to Congress, and we keep science-denying leaders like Matt Gaetz and Ron Desantis in office, we will never make progress as a nation or world in combatting the difficulties of climate change.

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