By hannah orgeron, staff writer
Getting an education was challenging and complicated for the members of the United Houma Nation.
“We weren’t treated right when I was growing up,” says Jeanette Billiot, a citizen of the United Houma Nation. “We were treated like outcasts.”
Instead of being allowed to attend the parish’s main schools, the tribe was forced to open their own. Many of the schools were segregated and built from small houses. What is now known as the Montegut Community Center was an elementary school located in Montegut, Louisiana. The high school, known as Daigleville High School in Houma, didn’t open until later.
Billiot, who attended the Montegut Community Center, says she started in first grade, but when she went to begin seventh grade, there was no teacher available. So she just did sixth grade again because she was not old enough to stop attending school.
The Daigleville School served as a Native American-only high school for the students of Terrebonne Parish. According to the United Houma Nation’s website, segregation ended in schools in 1964 because of a successful lawsuit against the school board.
Helen Duplantis, another tribal member who attended segregated schools, says there was some good.
“One good thing was that we were able to speak the French language,” she says. “Other people couldn’t speak French at other schools. It was our primary language and we learned English from teachers.”
To provide schooling during a time of segregation, the leaders in the Methodist church created a school for the Indigenous children of the area in an old dance hall, according to the “The Mission Story of the Dulac Community Center.” The first class was held in the building that is now the Dulac Community Center, on Oct. 1, 1932.
The school soon became a place of community. It allowed clubs and groups to participate in things that were unique to their interest as well as a place to go when they needed support or friendship.
In the end, Billiot says they forged their own educational path.