The Houma People

By Jade Williams, features editor

The native peoples who lived in North America are varied and plentiful. Just in Louisiana, tribes like the Chitimacha, Coushatta, Jena Band Choctaw were the first to make this land home. These tribes have an enormous amount of history.

The tribe that eventually settled in the Bayou Region is the United Houma Nation. The people of this tribe have moved around and have been documenting their history for centuries.

The first mention of the Houma Tribe is found from La Salle, a seventeenth century French explorer who reported on the existence of the “Oumas” village in 1682, according to an article titled The Native Heritage Project.

In 1686, Chevalier de Tonti, a voyager who assisted La Salle, went up the Mississippi River and found the “Oumas tribe, the bravest of all the savages.” The tribe’s location at this time was east of the Mississippi River in West Feliciana Parish. Today, this area is known for being the site of the Angola State Prison.

The Native Heritage Project article also states that in 1699, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, who was said to be governor of Louisiana and the founder of New Orleans, noted the conflict between the Houmas and the Bayougoula people.

The Bayougoula was another indigenous tribe who took part in the naming of Baton Rouge along with the people of the Houma Tribe.

“We are the reason why Baton Rouge got its name. The Houma people. It was named Iti Homma because of the red stick that separated the hunting territory and boundaries between us and the Bayougoula,” says Brittany Jimenez, a Houma Tribe member who lives in Texas, but is originally from Jefferson Parish.

An article from Visit Baton Rouge states that this marker on the east bank of the Mississippi River caught the eye of French-Canadian explorer, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville in 1699. The article states that he and his men saw the bloodied cypress pole on the bluff, adorned with animal parts and stained red from the tribes’ latest haul, and dubbed the area “le bâton rouge,” French for “Red Stick.”

In 1817, the town was officially incorporated as “Baton Rouge.” The Houma Tribe also took part in the naming of New Orleans.

An article titled Houma History, states that before the tribe came to be what it is today, the tribe seems to have had more than one village, but no names were recorded until the 1720s when they were called Little Houma and Great Houma.

The article states that beginning with the Quinipissa in 1698, the tribe survived by absorbing people from almost every small tribe in the region, which combined different cultures of French and Spanish. This had impacted the tribe’s language and traditions.

As time passed by, the tribe began to settle into Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes in south eastern Louisiana. Most of their descendents are still there today.

An elder of the tribe, Kathleen Bergeron from St. Mary Parish says how much the tribe has overcome and how it reflects on who they are as people and as a tribe.

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