Relocating Coastal Communities: Isle de Jean Charles
Coastal Louisiana is home to hundreds of small communities, as well as several larger towns (such as Lafitte, Houma, and Thibodaux), that are not protected by the large Federal subsidized hurricane protection levees such as those that surround New Orleans. The new hurricane protection system for the area, that is currently under construction, cannot incorporate all of these communities, although the Morganza to the Gulf levee* when it is completed, will include the larger towns listed here. One community that will not be included is the small town of Isle de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish. This small, mostly Native American community is grappling with relocating and creating a new community, after receiving federal funds for resettlement.
Video: Isle de Jean Charles from the documentary LAST STAND ON THE ISLAND (11:23)
As the short film below will demonstrate, not all the residents agree with Chief Naquin’s decision.
Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement Story
The Isle de Jean Charles residents have long been aware that the island's days are numbered as sea level rises and erosion of the marshes continues. Their houses are flooded and damaged regularly. Even so, many residents are resistant to the idea of leaving the island because of their strong attachment to the land and the way of life, including living off the water by fishing, shrimping, and crabbing. In 2016, the community of Isle de Jean Charles was the recipient of a $48 Million grant from the Department of Urban Development - HUD to relocate the families of the "Island" to a safer location, 40 miles inland near the community of Schriever. This is the first time a community has received federal funding and support for a relocation of this kind. The resettlement plan, which is still in progress, has not progressed smoothly. The original intention of tribal Chief Albert Naquin was to keep the tribal community intact and create a new community that allowed displaced members who had previously left the island to rejoin the community. There are many details and concerns to be worked out between the tribe and the state. To date, 23 families have committed to relocating to the new community. Others are staying behind. The actual move is still several years ahead. The difficulties encountered highlight how challenging relocating a community can be, especially if the community wishes to stay intact. The dilemmas and challenges met by Isle de Jean Charles are likely to play out in many places as sea level rise claims other coastal communities.
- Read about the Morganza to the Gulf Levee in this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Morganza to the Gulf fact sheet.
For a more in-depth look at the story of the resettlement of IDJC residents, please read the following two articles:
- The Daily Advertiser: As Gulf Swallows Louisiana Island, Displaced Tribe Fears Future
- The New York Times: Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees'
- Video: Voices from Vanishing Island: Isle de Jean Charles residents discuss leaving the land they loved
Learning Check Point
The resettlement website has details of this plan and a video in which Chief Naquin and others outline the plan. Read the articles and watch the video on Isle de Jean Charles to help you understand the dilemma faced by such a small, tight-knit community. Consider how you would answer the questions on the cards below. Click "Turn" to see the correct answer on the reverse side of each card.