The Story of Isle de Jean Charles

Imperiled on the front line of coastal erosion and rising seas, the bayou region of south Louisiana is home to diverse peoples and cultures.

The residents of Isle de Jean Charles—a population of predominantly American Indian ancestry—live in this region, on an island that is rapidly disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico. Once encompassing more than 22,000 acres, only 320 acres of Isle de Jean Charles remain. The sole connecting road to the mainland—Island Road, built in 1953—is often impassable due to high winds, tides, sea level rise or storm surge. This effectively blocks residents from school, work and essential goods and services. 

The land where island residents and their families once hunted, trapped, grazed animals and farmed is now open water. Unfortunately, the challenges of restoring or preserving the island’s landmass are insurmountable. So the question arises: How does the state help residents resettle to a new home, while preserving their culture and values in a new place that offers a prosperous and sustainable future? In response to that question, a dedicated team of state and local officials, planners, engineers, architects and policymakers is collaborating with current and past island residents to implement a program for the Resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles. 

Even with this focused effort, the Resettlement emerges as a complex process, involving a wide range of cultural, social, environmental, economic, institutional and political factors. As with any inclusive effort, all stakeholders bring unique values and perspectives to the table, which often complicates consensus-based decision-making. Therefore, the Resettlement cannot be driven solely by economic and operational objectives, but must incorporate a comprehensive, holistic and open-ended approach.

From the outset, the state’s expressed purpose has been to provide all current, permanent residents with relocation options that reflect the values of the Isle de Jean Charles people.

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