See an American town that's about to be completely lost to climate change.

The Jean Charles band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw have lived in the same place for more than 200 years.

The tribe's oral history has it that a Frenchman named Jean Marie Naquin married a Native American woman named Pauline Verdin in the early 1800s — and that Mr. Naquin's parents didn't take too kindly to their child's mixed marriage.

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The couple fled this familial wrath and settled on Isle de Jean Charles, a narrow inlet in the Louisiana bayou near Terrebonne Parish, about 11 miles off the mainland. The couple was soon joined by several other Native American families and this small community of indigenous Cajuns has lived there ever since...


A thatched roof island home on Isle de Jean Charles. Photo from NARA/New Deal Network/Library of Congress.

until now...

By the middle of the 20th century, there were nearly 400 people living on the island. At that point, the land was 11 miles long and five miles wide — providing this Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe with 55 square miles of lush, open land on which to hunt, farm, and thrive.

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But all that's left today is a half square mile of marshland — two miles long and a quarter-mile wide — with two dozen families struggling to survive.

Isle de Jean Charles in 2007, after Hurricane Gustave. Photo by Karen Gadbois/Flickr.

Over the last half-century, rising water levels and increasingly frequent natural disasters have all but destroyed the Louisiana shoreline.

"I'm not going to keep doing this," said Chief Albert Naquin in 2008. Naquin is a direct descendent of the island's first settlers, who inherited the title from his brother in 1997. 

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But Naquin himself doesn't even live on the island anymore. He packed up and moved across the bayou in the 1970s, in an effort to keep his job on the mainland — because the only road off the island was quickly disappearing. The chief had hoped that the rest of his tribe would follow, but 40 years later, some 25 families still remain.

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"At one time I didn't want to relocate — I thought it would be like another Trail of Tears," he told the Washington Post in 2009. "But now I see that is a selfish viewpoint. It's only a matter of time before the island's gone — one more good hurricane, and we'll be wiped out."

Albert Naquin's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Victor Naquin. Photo by NARA/New Deal Network/Library of Congress.

But the families who still live there don't want to lose that ancestral connection to the island.

"All of our history, all of our ancestral line — that's where our people are buried. That's where our family members were born," said Chantel Coverdelle, the community's tribal secretary. "They were raised there, and they raised their kids and grandkids. We've been there forever."

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The island's remaining residents still speak their own colloquial French-Cajun dialect and work as fishermen, oystermen, and fur trappers to survive. But ecological damage has made that work hard to come by too.

"People used to grow everything themselves; now you have to buy canned beans," a member of the tribe explained to the Washington Post. "People used to have cattle, but now you don't because you don't have any place to put them. We used to do for ourselves; now we have to rely on stores, and that means we have to get different jobs. It used to be everyone would share; now that's not around anymore. It just kills me."

"Island Road," the only landbridge between the island and the mainland, which was built in 1953 and still floods during storms. Screenshot from "Can't Stop the Water"/Vimeo.

Not to mention the island's last schoolhouse, a tiny one-room structure, closed nearly 50 years ago. This has created a devastating cycle of poverty and undereducation for those who remain on the island.

While it might be too late to save Isle de Jean Charles itself, it's not too late to save the tribe — thanks to a $48 million grant from the U.S. government.

Dardar is illiterate, so his son made this sign for him. Screenshot from "Can't Stop the Water"/Vimeo.

This last-minute financial savior comes as part of a National Disaster Resilience competition through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is providing more than $1 billion in funding for American communities that have suffered from natural disasters — making the Jean Charles band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw the first official U.S. refugees from climate change.

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"I’m very, very excited. I’ve been working on this for 13 years," Chief Naquin told Indian Country Today.

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"Now we’re getting a chance to reunite the family. They’re excited as well. Our culture is going to stay intact, [but] we’ve got to get the interest back in our youth."

It's nice to finally see the U.S. government taking action to protect Native Americans. Let's just hope it happens again.

Climate change isn't going away. In fact, it's only getting worse from here on out. 

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And while we can't undo the mass eradication of Native American people, it's not too late for us to help the ones left — especially since towns like Kivalina and Shishmaref have already spent years dealing with the brunt of our worsening planetary disaster.

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At the rate we're going, cultural preservation is the only hope we have. But if we work together, maybe that's enough.

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Here's the trailer for a documentary film about the tribe on Isle de Jean Charles:

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less