Crude Oil and Harsh Words: A Century of Conflict between the Houma Indians and the Oil Industry

Friday, January 4, 2013: 3:10 PM
Southdown Room (Sheraton New Orleans)
Frédéric Allamel, International School of Indiana
This paper will critically explore a series of five narratives that dramatize the binary opposition between the Houma tribe that comprises ‘powerless foragers’ and the oil corporations ruled by ‘omnipotent industrialists’. It will focus primarily on the local viewpoint (emic), which depicts a systemic struggle toward social equity and environmental justice. Set on the Louisiana coastline, these two groups of actors epitomize opposite worldviews that eventually reach theatrical values in confronting ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ as main protagonists, and staging the deterritorialization ‘conspiracy’ in lieu of a plot. Based on oral histories, this ethnohistorical approach will analyze the criticism of the ideology of progress as expressed by natives. This seemingly fragmented body of texts will actually reveal strong commonalities that underline the logic of a conflict in the making—whose roots are found in the industrial frenzy of the early twentieth century, whose actual state participates in the current debate on indigenous rights, and whose aftermath announces global ecological issues. The gradual construction of such contention will thus be addressed through the following narratives. 1) The first encounter with oil agents and the subsequent process of unscrupulous encroachment, which initiated the dispute between two worlds destined to collide. 2) The failure to achieve federal recognition and the responsibility of the oil industry whose lobbying efforts were supposedly designed to eliminate an opponent in the region. 3) The Grand Bois controversy and the failed lawsuit against Exxon for poisoning Houma residents, an outcome revealing the close ties between the oil industry and Louisiana politics. 4) The 2010 oil spill that deeply impacted the Houma economy and environment; this catastrophe amplified the group’s self-perception of victimization. 5) The manmade coastal erosion that forces many Indians to relocate, and raises issues such as ecocide and ethnocide, and ultimately the death of the Houma culture.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation