Monday, March 27, 2006

Born on the bayou: Tribal Katrina victims, you have not been forgotten!

Holy sheep dookie! I just got out of a Native American sweat lodge. Those things are FIERCE! First we all crowded into a willow frame covered with really heavy felt blankets to hold in the heat. Then some "Firemen" threw a whole bunch of really hot rocks into the tent and it got so hot that I thought my skin was gonna turn into Kentucky fried chicken. Then, while I was in shock and awe that I would have to spend the rest of my life in a burn unit, my evil twin got so scared that my good twin came out!

But only for a minute. My evil twin is back. Sorry about that.

Then after the sweat, the best chef in the whole United Houma Nation gave us all vanilla cream pie.

Today is Day 46 of the American Indian Movement's Sacred Run across the U.S. of A. On Day 43, I joined up with the Sacred Run in Baton Rouge and happily trotted after them, wearing my shiney red Espirit patent leather Mary Janes through 15 miles of rural Louisiana.

"But Jane," you may say, "you are not taking this run across America seriously." Ah, but I am. The fact that a few handfuls of dedicated men and women can take three whole months out of their lives to run across our country and try to warn us Americans that it is NOT too late to take nature seriously and be kind to her before she tires of our selfish ways and beats the crap out of us instead? I'm serious about that. The rest of this essay is going to be DEAD serious.

The main thing that has truly amazed me about being "On the Run" is how often we get to stop and talk with REAL Americans -- and how often they take time out of their busy lives to stop and talk to us, telling us about their worries, hopes and dreams for themselves and for their country.

Today we did something extra special. We (me and some of the tribal elders) walked and (my son Joe and a bunch of people in much better shape than me) ran through the bayous of southern Louisiana.

Everywhere we went, we saw other American indians -- members of the United Houma Nation -- coming out of their homes and lining up by the side of the road to cheer us on. The Houmas are Native Americans who have lived in these bayous all their lives and their ancestors have trapped, hunted and fished in these bayous for longer than anyone can remember. As we walked (and ran) through Bayou Grand Caillou and Isle de Jean Charles and Bayou La Fourche, we were met by hundreds of Houmas. And each one of them was really really really glad to see us.

One woman said, "Members of the United Houma Nation, without any aid from FEMA or the Red Cross, have worked together to put new roofs on over 70 houses, remove tons of debris and find shelter for the disposessed. We have even collected and re-erected the tombstones of our dead. We did this all by ourselves. And there is still a staggering amount of work left to do."

Again and again, with tears in their eyes, these Houma people told us, "If FEMA and the Red Cross and everyone have already forgotten about helping New Orleans recover, then you can imagine how quickly they have forgotten about us. But you haven't forgotten."

In the last three days, we have either walked or run up and down the banks of these bayous, past gutted houses and trailers, past destroyed shrimp boats, past unbelievable scenes of destruction. And everywhere we went, we have been greeted with smiles and tears.

"Thank you for remembering us," they said. "You are the only ones that have."

PS: Actually, not EVERYBODY forgot about the Houma. It hurts me to have to say this but I gotta give props to Wal-Mart. After the hurricane, Wal-Mart gave the tribe a whole truckload of new clothes.

And of course the oil companies haven't forgotten the Houma either. The Nation has been trying to be recognized as an official tribe for decades now. But you know THAT'S not going to happen. There is too much of a possibility that there is oil under Houma land.