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  • Writer's pictureDavid Keys

Choctaw Nation files Civil Rights Act complaint against Louisiana

The Jean Charles Choctaw Nation of Isle de Jean Charles, a barrier island about 80 miles south of New Orleans, Louisiana, are considered by the federal government to be the first climate refugees in the United States. What used to be a town of approximately 400 residents, mostly members of the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation and United Houma Nation, is now mostly deserted due to the island being inundated by sea level rise.

In January 2016, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the state of Louisiana $48.3 million to rebuild a town named New Isle about 40 miles north of Isle de Jean Charles. The land and homes in New Isle are free to some, but not all, residents of Isle de Jean Charles. Problems arose in part because the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation is not a federally recognized tribe, which means the Tribe has to deal with the state of Louisiana instead of directly with the federal government. In December 2023, EarthRights International filed a complaint on behalf of the Jean Charles Choctaw Nation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requesting it investigate the Louisiana Office of Community Development's implementation of the Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement Program. The Tribe contends that once the Louisiana Office of Community Development received the federal government's resettlement funding, it significantly changed the Resettlement Program by switching from a Tribal-led operation to a Louisiana Office of Community Development-led one. According to the Tribe's complaint, the Tribe's status was downgraded by the state agency from a grant beneficiary to that of a stakeholder, which created stricter eligibility requirements for Tribal members who were displaced before 2012. In addition, the complaint alleges that the State "has taken actions to pressure Indigenous residents of Isle de Jean Charles to surrender control of their Island properties while protecting the Island for continued use by corporate, non-Native interests."

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