French diplomat visits Amerindian tribes south of Terrebonne
The representative of France in Louisiana forges links with the French-speaking communities of Terrebonne and Lafourche.
Consul General Nathalie Beras and his team visited Pointe-aux-Chênes and Jean Charles Island and met with French-speaking Amerindian tribal leaders about two weeks ago. They call this the start of long-term collaborations with the region’s wider Francophone communities on projects aimed at strengthening language, culture and the environment. Meetings with other groups are planned.
Beras said it was exciting to be outside of New Orleans and interact with people who speak French and want to pass it on to future generations.
“Several hundred years ago the French came here, and Louisiana was sold to the Americans in 1803. So that was a long time ago, and we still share the culture and the language. Language is more than words, it is an identity, ”said Beras.
Also present at the gathering were representatives of Télé-Louisiane, a multilingual media company dedicated to the preservation of the French language and culture in Louisiana.
The group took a boat ride on the waterways surrounding Jean Charles Island. The visit was led by Albert Naquin, traditional chief of the island band of Jean Charles of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe; and Chuckie Verdin, first president of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe.
Beras said she has learned how climate change, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion have rapidly altered the bayou’s environment and hopes to help in tackling those struggles as well.
Beras said people are moved when they learn that these communities have fought to keep the French language and culture alive.
The French Consulate in New Orleans is also involved in supporting French programs in schools through groups such as the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, or CODOFIL.
Cultural attaché Jacques Baran hopes that local officials will see the investment profitable in setting up French programs in schools.
“The need is obviously there, and when a school hires a teacher through the CODOFIL program, his salary is partially funded by CODOFIL. It’s also very important because it really helps all the schools, ”said Baran.
Télé-Louisiane CEO Will McGrew wants local authorities to know that help is available for these programs in French.
“France and other players are here, ready to help local school boards open schools if they wish,” said McGrew.
McGrew is also working with the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe to soon start weekend French lessons for children in the region. The French Consulate in New Orleans and CODOFIL support the courses. Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribal Council member Christine Verdin and other tribal members have education training to help advance these efforts.