Don't Call Us Climate Refugees

The Isle de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish has been home for more than a century to members of southern Louisiana’s Native American tribes, a close-knit community living in ramshackle houses amid live oak trees and lush wetlands—a modest slice of heaven on the Gulf of Mexico.

Yet as in bayou communities across the region, the island’s residents have watched their ancestral home unravel: wetlands reverting to open water, cypress forests drowning in saltwater, storm surges swamping low-lying homes. Through the combined effects of land loss, sinking soils, and sea-level rise, since 1955 more than 98% of the island has vanished, dwindling from 22,400 acres to just 320 today. Tribal members have scattered: from a peak of 400 residents, today perhaps 85 remain.

Now, the people of Isle de Jean Charles are being catapulted into the vanguard of the race against climate change. In January, a portfolio of Louisiana projects was awarded more than $230 million by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through its National Disaster Resilience Competition, a powerful initiative aimed at pivoting Americans from stopgap disaster response toward a more resilient future.