Long before there was “New Orleans,” there was Bulbvncha, a meeting place of many cultures and languages, a home to many people. That history and those people are still with us, although the growth of the European city of New Orleans has obscured traces of both. The majority of this ride travels along a traditional portage route near Lake Ponchartrain down towards to the French Quarter, retracing a thoroughfare that Indigenous people followed long before the arrival of European settlers, and remembers an important legacy and population that is not always recognized in talking about New Orleans’ unique culture and history.
Many thanks to Scierra LaGarde, a Bayou Lacombe Choctaw woman, for her insights, edits, and additions to this route, and for the final reflection offered for the last stop. Watch her video above to learn more!
A final note: this route contains no embedded images of people, and no historic photographs of Native people in New Orleans within the text itself (although there are photographs in many of the linked materials). That is a deliberate choice – as is the attempt to use older, precolonial place names – and is not meant to deny a rich visual history. There are several articles available concerning the coercive, non-consensual, commercializing use of photography against Native people that we encourage riders to explore, and also examinations of Indigenous artists whose in the past and the present engages in re-examing, pushing back against, and claiming the art form.
Turn by turn directions can be found here: https://goo.gl/maps/rv2NFC1bvf2qMoVg8
Stop A: Indigenous settlement (site of the “Old Spanish Fort”)
In the early 1700s, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the “founder” of New Orleans made his way to the city’s present site, although other European traders and fur trappers had also passed through the area starting in the 1690s. Bienville navigated here because Indigenous peoples in what is now Alabama directed him to the raised area along the river that had been in use by Native peoples for generations. From at least 300 CE, Indigenous Louisianans have lived in the area now covered by Spanish brickwork, on the shore of Shupik Atcha, sometimes more commonly known as Bayou Choupic (a name given to this waterway by the Okla Pisa [Acolapissa] that means “Mudfish River”). That long usage was disrupted by the French in 1701 when a small fort was built here on a large shell midden associated with the site’s until then continuous use by Indigenous people. The current ruins date from several decades later, when the Spanish built a brick compound at the site.
*[The written form of Native languages is a complex subject, and the earliest “dictionaries” were often produced by European colonizers whose interest in linguistics often served goals of religious conversion and colonial capitalism. The first English-Choctaw dictionary is no different, but there are ongoing efforts by Native groups themselves to study and codify their languages. In 2016, for instance, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma unveiled the first new dictionary of Choctaw in nearly two hundred years. Read more about the dictionary on the Nation’s website, or you can browse the dictionary itself on the page of the Nation’s Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvna (School of Choctaw Language)] [With credit to historian Mark Souther (@marksouther) for posting the map of the Shupik Atcha]
Stop B: Portage Route (Bayou Road)
For Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Tulane organized a conversation called “On Remembering” with Monique Verdin (Houma Nation), and Rachel Breunlin (with a special poetry reading by Moose Jackson of a new piece, “Floodlines and Bloodlines”). All three speak from the banks of the Shupik Atcha, where Verdin and Breunlin talk about the book Return to Yakni Chitto: Houma Migrations; climate change, gentrification, environmental catastrophe; and New Orleans’ Indigenous past, present, and future. The conversation also reflects on work from Brandan “B-mike” Odums’ exhibit
NOT Supposed 2 BE Here at the Newcomb Gallery of Art.
Stop C: Indigenous market site (now Café du Monde)
Rochester, New York-based artist Frank H. Taylor visited New Orleans in 1870 and drew a group of three probably Choctaw women selling gumbo in the French Market. (please note that this drawing is labeled with a generic and inaccurate caption that while not overtly offensive is insensitive and antiquated. Indian Country Today published a piece in 2016 with reflections from members of several Indigenous communities reflecting on their preferred nomenclature and discussing the complexities of the various identities Native people inhabit. In the words of Dyani White Hawk, Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, “Understanding our names is a base level of understanding of who we are.”)
Stop D: St. Antony’s Garden (behind St. Louis Cathedral)
As you pass through this section of the French Quarter, take a moment to reflect on New Orleans’ decision to continue to venerate Andrew Jackson by keeping a large statue of him in the center of the city. Jackson was an enthusiastic and unrepentant participant in the European genocide of Indigenous people on this continent, most cruelly and famously through the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forcibly removed untold numbers of Native people of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Este Mvskokvlke (Muscogee, also sometimes called Creek) and Seminole nations from their homes and traditional lands in the southeastern United States. Their removal and forced relocation over thousands of miles to unfamiliar lands unleashed suffering, death, and cultural trauma on a massive scale. Before their forced removal in 1833, the Cherokee Nation fought a legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court, culminating in the 1832 decison Worcester v. Georgia, in which Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that, “treaties and laws of the United States contemplate the Indian territory as completely separated from that of the states; and provide that all intercourse with them shall be carried on exclusively by the government of the union. … The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community occupying its own territory in which the laws of Georgia can have no force. The whole intercourse between the United States and this nation, is, by our constitution and laws, vested in the government of the United States.” This was a partial reversal of the 1831 decision Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, which the Supreme Court had refused to hear at all., Despite their legal victory, the United States signed the so-called “Treaty of New Echota” with a small number of Cherokee Nation members, and as a result the Cherokee Nation as a whole were forced westward as well into “Indian Territory,” or Oklahoma. In an echo of Worcester, In July of 2020 a 5-4 Supreme Court decision ruled that about half of eastern Oklahoma is still Mvskokvlke land. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinon for McGirt v. Oklahoma, stating,
On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever. In exchange for ceding “all their land, East of the Mississippi river,” the U. S. government agreed by treaty that “[t]he Creek country west of the Mississippi shall be solemnly guarantied to the Creek Indians.” … Both parties settled on boundary lines for a new and “permanent home to the whole Creek nation,” located in what is now Oklahoma. … The government further promised that“[no] State or Territory [shall] ever have a right to pass laws for the government of such Indians, but they shall be allowed to govern themselves.” …. Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said other-wise, we hold the government to its word. [Internal citations omitted]
Stop E: Backstreet Cultural Center
As the Mardi Gras Indians developed, their tradition has incorporated elements of Plains Indian dress for the shape of many of the brilliantly-colored suits (especially the elaborate and flowing headdresses), Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms, and various other influences from within New Orleans.
The twenty-first century visibility of Mardi Gras Indians owes much to the efforts of the late Tootie Montana, Big Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas. Chief Montana was a force in advocating for the city of New Orleans to back off the heavy-handed police repression that Mardi Gras Indians often faced when masking and dancing in the streets. The Backstreet Cultural Center is an important site documenting both Second Line culture and Mardi Gras Indian traditions, and a homebase for the Fi Yi Yi.
Stop F: Washington Square Park
Native communities throughout Bulbvancha and the surrounding regions continue the hard work to decolonize Louisiana’s history; to give an indigenous perspective to this state’s rich heritage. Louisiana is more than its Cajun and Creole cultures but in fact spans thousands of years of precolonial history. However, more needs to be done. The United States and Canadian governments (as well as settler nations throughout the world) need to take increased measures to ensure the recognition of tribal sovereignty; the prevention of more missing and murdered indigenous women; representation of Natives in state and provincial governments; and install a better healthcare, education and voting system for lower income native communities on reservations and reserves. Native communities around the world Louisiana are also among those most immediately impacted by climate change and land loss, which is no less true in Louisiana specifically.
On the other hand, there is a lot to celebrate throughout Indian Country. Social media and current civil rights movements have increased indigenous voices across the social spectrum. Younger generations are becoming more involved in their culture through tribal programs set up to preserve language and traditions. Hundreds to thousands of indigenous Americans, Canadians and Mexicans gather at powwows in the U.S. and Canada to celebrate their heritage by dancing, singing, and cooking. For over two centuries, this countries’ history revolved around a euro-centric narrative. It is important now more than ever to illustrate how Indigenous culture here in Bulbvncha and across the United States isn’t just a relic of the past, but is alive and well in the present. The key is knowing where to look, and it will be in the future.
While you are riding, bring masks and hand sanitizer, respect physical distancing, and make sure that you have an emergency contact who knows where you are and can pick you up if needed. We also have some more in-depth tips for safe biking in the pandemic, check them out! Please be aware that NOLA to Angola cannot provide logistical or emergency support to individual riders this year. Take care, and safe riding!
One response to “Bulbvancha”
This is incredible! I’m so proud of my little cousin!!!