Jessica Parfait of the United Houma Nation
“It's been really weird, proving that people are still here, when they never left, but probably just didn't want to be found because of how you were treating Indigenous folks.” --Jessica Parfait
Jessica Parfait (she/her) is a member of the United Houma Nation. She grew up in Dulac and Houma, Louisiana, and currently resides in Baton Rouge. She attended Nicholls State University before earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in anthropology from Louisiana State University, with a master’s thesis about the Houma. She is a professional anthropologist working for the Water Institute of the Gulf, a nonprofit based in Baton Rouge, where she focuses on the human dimensions of coastal policy. She is an expert in the history and culture of the Houma and active in the preservation and expansion of traditional cultural practice, including basketry and beading.
In her Un-Recognized Stories interview, Jessica discusses land, resources, tribal recognition, cultural practice, and the relationship between anthropologists and Indigenous Peoples.
The United Houma Nation
The United Houma Nation is a state-recognized Indigenous Nation currently headquartered in Golden Meadow, Louisiana, with historical roots in both Louisiana and Mississippi. The Houma (the Red People) have been in continual displacement since the early European incursions into the Lower Mississippi Valley. The Houma have been pushed downriver time and again until the majority of the population currently lives in St. Bernard, Terrebonne, St. Mary, Lafourche, Jefferson, and Plaquemines Parishes. The largest Indigenous Nation of Louisiana, the Houma number some 17,000 people, and major Louisiana cities that once had Houma village sites include both Itti Homma (Baton Rouge) and Bulbancha. Houma culture is celebrated in several annual events, including a powwow. The Houma today are particularly affected by coastal land loss, climate change, impacts on the seafood industry, and petroleum industry issues. The Houma Language Project is an ongoing effort to revitalize Uma, the Muskogean language of the tribe. French is also a common language for many Houma People. The tribe has sought federal recognition for decades, and is one of the most prominent Indigenous Nations in the United States to not enjoy that status.
d’Oney, J. Daniel. A Kingdom of Water: Adaptation and Survival in the Houma Nation. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2020).
Ellis, Elizabeth N., “The Many Ties of the Petites Nations: Relationships, Power, and Diplomacy in the Lower Mississippi Valley, 1685–1785” (PhD diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2015).
Swanton, John R. The Historic Indian Tribes of the Lower Mississippi Valley and Adjacent Coast of the Gulf of Mexico (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1911).
Verdin, Monique, “Ebb and Flow: Migrations of the Houma, Erosions of the Coast” in Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).
Verdin, Monique, et al. Return to Yakni Chitto: Houma Migrations (Bulbancha: University of New Orleans Press and the Neighborhood Story Project, 2019).