By Madeleine Bauland, Staff Writer
Language affects relationships and how people communicate. For the Houma, their language brings people closer together and strengthens tribal community ties. It is one of the biggest parts of their culture.
The language of the Houmas, Uma, is part of the Western Muskogean family of languages and was unwritten. Since colonization, the community has spoken French and English.
Reclaiming their language is vital to the Houma people because many of them have migrated and are not in their homelands anymore. They reside in all different locations across the United States and even globally. Because the language has evolved over time, it is important that the people of the Houma Tribe continue to hold on to it.
Ben Wood, a member of the Houma Language Project, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Houma language, says language is tied to the tribe’s identity and those who speak it can feel physical benefits. It reduces stress levels, creates a healthier community and can help members achieve a better life outcome.
“It definitely has a positive physical impact,” Wood says.
There are also words in Uma and other Western Muskogean languages that have no English equivalent, he says. Those who still speak it are preserving the culture, and the deep meaning it holds is unlike any other language.
Colleen Billiott, a member of the United Houma Nation and co-founder of the Houma Language Project, says that the work she does is important to her because of how it deepens her connection with family members whose example she learned from.
“I am continuing to work off the foundation of what my pawpaw did for the tribe and what my great grandparents left behind like the recording of my great mawmaw, Elvira, singing in the Houma language” Billiot says.
PODCAST Hali Dardar, co-founder of the Houma Language Project, discusses language.