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Nations Within

The Four Sovereign Tribes of Louisiana

136 pages / 10.25 x 11.00 inches / 132 color photographs

American Native Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807128862 / September 2003

The land of Louisiana has nourished Native American people since 4000 B.C. Not often thought of as “Indian country,” this southern state has some of the oldest and best-preserved Indian burial sites in the world, as well as distinct native cultures that continue to flourish into the twenty-first century. Nations Within combines amazing photographs with the voices and perspectives of Native Americans to unveil the past and glimpse the future of the four federally recognized sovereign Indian tribes of Louisiana — the Chitimacha, Coushatta, Tunica-Biloxi, and Jena Band of Choctaw — showing how these particular groups have sustained their heritage and managed to thrive despite poverty, discrimination, and near extinction.

The oldest, the Chitimacha, have resided along the Atchafalaya Basin for more than six thousand years and achieved federal recognition in 1919. This community has kept its identity through French and Spanish colonial governments, as Acadians flowed into the region, and even as mainstream white American culture seeped into its indigenous way of life and displaced its native tongue. The Tunica-Biloxi tribe, which began efforts to gain recognition in the 1930s and finally achieved that goal in 1981, can trace its roots back to the sixteenth century. Located near Marksville, this nation once considered renting its land for fifty dollars a month as a garbage dump, but now owns a multimillion-dollar business that benefits the triabl members and has recovered a fascinating collection of artifacts attesting to its long history.

The Coushatta began their journey from Georgia to Louisiana in the late eighteenth century, eventually settling along the southeastern reaches of the Red River. Attaining sovereign status in 1972, the tribe has maintained its basic social tie, the family unit or clan, and continues to practice traditions handed down for centuries, such as the ritual shaving of infants’ hair, flute music, basket weaving, and Indian fry bread. The youngest of the nations is the Jena Band of Choctaw, which chose the Trout Creek area in central Louisiana as its home instead of continuing the trek with other Choctaw forced west along the Trail of Tears. Securing federal recognition only in 1995, the Jena Band focuses its efforts on paving its economic future, raising the educational level of the tribe, and improving health care options for members.

This wonderfully conceived book follows some of Louisiana’s many Indians through everday life as they preserve their culture and prepare for their future within an increasingly complex world. Photographs and text together tell the uniqueness of each tribe and the shining strength of its people. 

Tim Mueller is a photo editor for the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Sarah Sue Goldsmith (1942-2001) was the assistant director of news service in Louisiana State University's Office of University Relations and for many years the associate editor of the Advocate Sunday Magazine.
A former reporter, Risa Mueller is a public relations consultant.

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