Modern Culture

By robbie trosclair, staff writer

The United Houma Nation has an important and unique way of life. The culture they have been developing for hundreds of years has not been forgotten by them and instead has been cleverly adapted to and retaught in ways that match modern times.

Areas like traditional jewelry, basket weaving, fishing and even education are all modern issues that are constantly being reshaped and retaught to the younger generation.

“Children become the leaders”, says Janie Luster, who’s family weaves baskets and makes traditional jewelry.

According to former chief Brenda Dardar Robichaux, an important part of modern culture is the education of the UHN youth. This is done partially through summer enrichment camps.

These camps teach both Native American history and other subjects together like learning math through beadwork and science through studying indigienous plants and their uses.

For the older kids, camps offer leadership training. Members form a mock tribal council and come up with solutions for modern issues. One particular camp, the issue was the relocation of Jean Charles Island.

In the simulation, the citizens of the island were offered ten million dollars to move without taking anything with them. Robichaux says she was sad they were already familiar with this issue but also said she was almost brought to tears with their attention to the subject.

“They were so passionate about what it meant to lose their community,” Robichaux says.

For older traditions like making a filé, Luster’s mother used to gather the sassafras leaves with her hands as well as crush them down with a mortar and pestle. Now, citizens are using tools like Ninja food processors and flour sifters. Luster says that she has memories of the filé getting everywhere but the NINJA makes things a little easier for cleanup and their lungs.

Using garfish to make jewelry is also something unique to the UHN that has been modernized. Originally, Luster’s mother would take garfish scales and attach them to blue clay from whatever bayou she could pull them from. Luster and her family carry out that tradition, but use a glue gun to help with production.

“We’re still doing this four generations later, my mother, myself, my daughter and their children,” Luster says.

Preparing the garfish is necessary before the jewelry can be made, and Luster has modernized this by using a smoker rather than hanging the fish by a clothesline and using a drum barrel fire.

The scales have allowed her the opportunity to travel to the Smithsonian Museum and France twice.

“Modern ways of doing things are a little easier, yet the same things are being carried on,” Luster says.

Part of modern UHN culture is finding traditions that are almost forgotten and teaching it to the rest of the tribe. One such example is the Houma half hitch basket, which Luster says was lost in the ’40s and was a product that the Houma were the only tribe in the country to make.

It was relearned through a class taught in the ’90s by Richard Conn, the curator of the Denver American Indian Museum. Although the tribe struggled to relearn the technique, Luster was able to teach herself using a manual given to her by Conn. From there, she created her own way of teaching the basket so that the UHN could bring back the basket.

Even fishing, a way of life that goes back thousands of years has been brought into the modern era by the UHN. Robichaux’s father fished for oysters, but now her son farms for them, a much more sustainable alternative.

RJ Molinere, a UHN member who has been fishing his entire life is now sometimes dependent on his son and the map data on the internet as land disappears from coastal erosion.

The most important modern tradition is making sure the next generation is able to continue on the UHN legacy. With older traditions continuing to adapt to the times, the UHN will be able to enjoy thousands of years of prosperity.

“It’s given me my identity,” Bergeron says. “It rounded me, tells me who I am.”