Friday, June 24, 2011

“We Were Never Strangers…”

Our trip to the Mississippi Delta comes to end as we prepare to travel back to Indiana but what a wealth of knowledge we acquired and  a greater understanding of fellow Natives here in Louisiana. We  were "off the grid" for a couple of days where we lacked internet access camping at Chicot State Park near Lafayette, LA. Luckily, we had a chance to bond with the high school students who were part of the METALS geology summer camp for under represented students from California, Louisiana and Texas. We visited Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, took a boat ride to the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal/Surge Barrier, learned about the geology of water sheds, took a swamp tour at Bayou Vermillion, and visited Avery Island, the home of Tabasco Pepper Sauce. All these sights raised our awareness of the depletion of wetlands in Louisiana and what important role it plays in our environment. It also brings to light the challenges we face for our future:  reliance upon oil and gas vs. the preservation of our environment.

What has been the most meaningful part of the trip was meeting fellow Natives from the Huoma Nation, Grand Bayou Village and Pointe-au-Chien Indian Community. They were all wonderful people who kindly shared their stories of survival and their plight as they look to the future. The common thread that connects them together with the rest of the Native community was their concern for the land and how they can maintain their ties to Mother Earth. Their home lands have been pushed to the edge but they continue to endure and show the true resilience of Native people. The best quote I heard was from Kirby Verret from the Huoma Nation, “we were never strangers but simply friends who haven’t met before!”

Felica Ahasteen-Bryant
Director, NAECC

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Photos by Buster Landin

Structure at Bonnet Carre' Spillway. 1.5 miles long. Diverts freshwater from
 Mississippi River into Lake Pontchatrain to save New Orleans

 Bays that are open and closed as needed to control water flow.

Leanna Begay using a refractometer to determine water salinity.

Grand Bayou Indian Village

Grand Bayou Indian Village

 $1.1 billion surge barrier that is nearing completion near New Orleans.

$1.1 billion surge barrier that is nearing completion near New Orleans.

 Alligator from 25 feet above it. It's a big one.

                      Mothra                                    Unconformity between loess and sandstone

Old River Causeway diverts 30% of water from Mississippi down the Atchafalaya River. 
This is where the mississippi River really wants to flow but the USACE isn't letting it.

Sinkhole in top of salt dome at Avery Island

Golden Web spider 
Note the small male in the upper part of the photo. The main spider is the female

No Easy Answers

The past few days we meet with tribal people from 3 different bayous.  After seeing and hearing about the issues facing the Mississippi delta from scientific and industrial perspectives for many days prior to these meetings it was really interesting to hear a “spin free” story.  These are people who make their living from the coastal waters whose only agenda is being able to put food on the table for their families and live in this place.  Their connection to the land is strong and their love of the hard work necessary to make a living in evident.  It is proud tradition that continues to this day.   This way of life in the delta is threatened at every turn.  The threats are of such as massive scale affecting the whole Louisiana coast that it boggles the mind to come up with an idea of where to begin.   However the sentiments are clear and the same themes run throughout our dialogs with the tribal people that:

1) The land is disappearing
2) Salt water is impacting their lives
3) We are threatened
4) This is our place in the world.

People from the Grand Bayou Village said it best “We don’t want to be the generation that calls it quits and moves from this place.” However the number of people that are represented by these folks is maybe 2000 people total and that is not enough to compel either the state or federal government to act to save the land on their behalf to ensure that their way of live remains. 

Industry and shipping want to maintain the coast as it is now to simplify shipping and the movement of goods and oil.  This means maintaining the canals and levees to try and tame the savage beast that is nature and the Mississippi River.  This can be symbolized by the new $1.1 billion surge barrier that is now nearing completion 8 miles south of New Orleans otherwise known as “The Great Wall of Louisiana.”  It also represents the continued fiddling with nature to repair a previous shortsighted blunder of epic proportions the constructing two canals and levees that created a funnel which concentrated and amplified Katrina’s storm surge and shot it straight into New Orleans creating much of the destruction and devastating flooding in New Orleans. 

However, this means the continued loss of marsh and wetlands as well as the continued subsidence of the land because the replenishing of sediments and fresh water in these areas that keeps the Gulf of Mexico at bay lies within the strangled confines of the levees and bypasses these areas and is deposited beyond the continental shelf into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.  There was a natural system of wetlands, marshes, and barrier islands that protected the people and the natural resources of this area.  This system was maintained by the Mississippi River flooding and flowing where it wanted to go.  It dealt with the issues of land subsidence and salt water intrusion by the distribution of sediment and steady flows of freshwater down distributaries.  It also maintained healthy marshes and wetlands which is so vital to maintaining a vibrant and rich ecosystem that nurtured shrimp, oysters, and fish.

A feeling of hopelessness washes over you because there are no easy answers a dismal outlook and there is too much money at stake tied to big money players such as oil, industry, commercial fishing, and sport fishing.

I listened as these stories unfolded; I still wonder what to do.  There is no panacea that I could see.  Maybe, all I could do is to have listened and passed on the story as I just have so that the story lives on and the memory of these people in this place with their love of the land lives on.

Nils "Buster" Landin
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Agronomy

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

More postings tomorrow

The geology group has been without internet access for a few days.  Please check back tomorrow for an update.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Artifact Oil

Nutria is considered an invasive species in Southeastern Louisiana.  In a place where salt marshes and estuaries enable shrimp populations, and in turn enable human populations, the increase of personage has itself become an invasive species.  Human constructs, piled atop of technologies and scientific understanding of materials, and creates an artificial ecology.  Just as the nutria disrupt the indigenous ecology by eating the roots of cord grass, human commoditization as a collective artifact serves as an organism which not only disrupts the natural ecological systems, but also  anthropogenic systems such as trade, commerce, and subsistence.  We know this.

Scientific measurements of beach profiles and their associated theories of geology couple with indigenous knowledge systems to expose key pragmatisms.  Both western science and traditional ecological knowledge understand that shrimp rely on cord grass to populate.  Both recognized sedimentary deposits from cyclical floods and river movement created the land base for salt marshes.  Both are able to determine that the local ecology is changing due to gradual northward movement of salt-water.  Both recognize that the system is disrupted by human interference, and that through human interference the ecology is destabilizing.  However, the key epistemological difference stems around the concept of sustainability.  Oil & gas production has the ability to sustain a community within our current social economy, however both traditional ecological knowledge, regardless of ethnicity, begrudgingly recognizes the impossible sustainability of current oil & gas based economies due to both gradual impacts such as climate change, and immediate impacts such as the April 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill.

So what is this aspect of human civilization which drives us?  Pre-contact Era indigenous populations operated in a sociopolitical system which was resource-based, while the colonial systems of value where trust-based.  As the social ecologies evolved through time, the trust-resource relation transformed the deltaic regions of Louisiana in congruence with the commoditization of plant, animal, and mineral resources.  In our current state, where a global society emerges, the trust/resource relationship begins to conflict with human/nature relationships necessary to sustain homeostasis.  The cultural value systems also change, however key principles, most notably family, still retain key social dominance.

As for the qunatitive/qualitive data for these concepts, their scattered across the journals of high school students, PowerPoint presentations, local oratory, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, each an immediately discernable pragmatism which illuminates a key truth.  These “truths,” are impossible to describe in their complete context simply because we are incapable of the entire cognitive synthesis.  Just as a gorilla might learn to add, yet will never be able to derive calculus equations, we as humans our limited by our own biology.  However, we are enlightened enough to recognize ourselves as part of a grander system, with its own biology.  It is in our relationship to the other parts of this system, be they mineral resources, economic drivers, biological organization, or even the mysterious emergence of civilization, we acknowledge our place on this planet.  Furthermore, we acknowledge each other as humans, as family, each indigenous to this planet

We cannot create anything.  We can only manipulate.  We have a choice, and we have responsibility so far as we collectively choose to acknowledge it.  Oil & gas resources are finite. Nature ultimately defeats all anthropogenic manipulation over a period of time.  However, below our artifice, we have an inherent relationship with all of our relatives; human or otherwise.

Patrick Freeland

Photos by Buster Landin

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Photos - Day 3

Dr. Ridgway discussing sand dune migration at the Grand Isle State Park

University of Texas - El Paso Professor Rip discussing dune formation

Alaina Bryant and Darryl Reano cooling off in the ocean

Patrick Freeland showing some tar balls, possible evidence of the BP oil spill

Photos - Day 2

Students and faculty from University of New Orleans, University of San Francisco and Purdue viewing maps of the lower Mississippi Valley at the Bonnet Carré Spillway in Norco, LA. This spillway protects New Orleans and other downstream communities during major floods on the Mississippi River.

Due to flooding in the Midwest in earlier this spring, the spillways were opened to alleviate the Mississippi River. Diverted flood waters enter Lake Pontchatrain, providing valuable nutrients to the ecosystem.

Darryl Reano working with high school students and faculty from University of New Orleans to conducting water quality testing on Bayou Lafourche.

It has been an interesting trip so far.  We drove from Indianapolis which lays on a young and relatively flat landscape.  As we continued south we traveled over older and at times much older landscapes that were very hilly.  Then as we came into Louisiana and the country under of the influence of the Mississippi River, we were back in young flat landscapes again.  

One aspect of the trip so far that struck me in my personal opinion was the sheer magnitude of the money and the human effort that goes into trying to maintain the whole Mississippi delta area from Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico.  Huge spillways, freshwater diversions, canals, and sediment distribution.  This is one aspect of human endeavor that was not well thought out.  Trying to control nature and put it into stasis.  People have constructed levees to control a river roughly 100 years ago. Since, then 
they have been constantly trying to reinvent the wheel and are attempting to re-engineer and recreate what nature does all on its’ own.  It is as if man is trying to create nature “in his own image” but don’t have the foresight or knowledge to think about the unintended consequences and all the ramifications of those actions in nature. Human beings have the technology, the tools, and the engineering to create all of these structures to in an attempt to dominate the 4th longest river in the world and the 11th by discharge. It’s not a question of whether we can do it, the question is should we do it.

Met up with the other groups in New Orleans.  The students so far seem to be a good group.  Our first foray into teaching geology was a beach profiling exercise on Grand Isle.  It was quite hot like we were two steps from the sun.  The students and teachers persevered through this exercise despite the heat.  Oh and Sno-Balls rock!

Nils "Buster" Landin
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Agronomy

From the Delta

After two days of coming to some deeper understanding about what’s happening to the bayous and coastlines of the Mississippi River delta, it’s hard to imagine what the long term solution is going to be. Most folks seem to understand that if everything were left to its natural course there would be no New Orleans, no Grand Isle and the whole delta system would be very different than it is today. But we cannot turn back the clock and undo all of the human efforts that brought us to this place. 

The Mississippi River floodplain was always a dangerous place to live from the earliest indigenous residents to those who live there now. I think there are going to be tough choices ahead for many of the people who call this place home. But I think it is more important for everyone else to understand that this is not just a Louisiana problem. What’s happening here and the choices made will have an effect on all of us. I’m really happy to be here working with a crew that will be part of the solution.

And if you’ve not been to Louisiana you are missing some of the most most beautiful and unique country in the U.S. As well as some of the most generous and lovely people!

Dr. Dawn Marsh
Department of History

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Adventure Begins

The start of our trip took us on a journey into the Civil Rights Movement and an ancient Mississippian Native community.

We spent the first day in Birmingham Alabama and visited the staging area for the Civil Rights demonstrations in the 1960s. We visited the historic 16th Street Baptist Church where Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. led the non-violent demonstrations throughout the city and it also was the site where four girls were killed when the church was bombed. We walked in Kelly Ingram Park and saw statues that depicted the dogs attacking the protesters and the fire cannons used against children. It provided us with a somber moment in US history with the powerful images and bravery the people (including the children) had to challenge segregation and racism.
16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL

16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. Pictured above, Ken Ridgway, Dawn Marsh, Josh Jefferies, Alaina Bryant, Darryl Reano, and Buster Landin.
The next day we stopped at Moundville Archaeological Park in Tuscaloosa Alabama. This was the second largest city of the Mississippian Native community who are believed to be the ancestors of the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Seminole. Good look into the history of Native Americans and early evidence of their strong spiritual connection with Mother Earth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Dawn Marsh, Josh Jefferies, and 
Buster Landin walking upstairs to the 
top of the mound at Moundville 
Archaeological Park, Tuscaloosa, AL.

Felica Ahasteen-Bryant
Director, NAECC

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ya’at’eeh or Welcome…

We are unveiling our new NAECC blog and what better way to start off then to feature a summer trip!! A group of Purdue students, faculty, staff and alumni will depart this weekend on a two-week adventure to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana where we will examine environmental issues that are impacting tribal communities. Last year, we started this geology field course experience and we focused on the Colorado Plateau and this year, we’re visiting Native communities in the Mississippi Delta. During our two week trip, we’ll update our blog and post pictures on the many communities we’ll visit, the many people we meet and undoubtedly the many “shenanigan” we’ll encounter on this journey. I hope you’ll enjoy our adventure and learn something along the way.

Felica Ahasteen-Bryant