Sunday, June 27, 2010

Louisiana Creole: Why It Matters an Encore Blog

WHY LOUISIANA CREOLE MATTERS: A Personal NDN-Creole Perspective[1]
By: L. Rain C Gomez

“…we dive and rise continuously from waters pushed from the Gulf of Mexico into the interior deltas. Our inherited blood brackish as these bayous…neither fresh nor sea-salt; yet natural in its inherent Louisiana topography.” “Old Crawdad the Fisherman”--- L. Rain C Gomez[2]

I am reposting portions of the blog/conversation I had about donating/saving the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center. This resource is vitally important to not only those of us of Louisiana Creole heritage/descent, but to understanding both the African and Indigenous Diaspora in the Americas, and in particular the racial stratification and cultural heritage of the Gulf south… The Louisiana gulf coast has survived Katrina, Rita and is now battling the BP oil spill. Indigenous Louisiana includes not only the federal and state recognized tribes, but also the vast Mestizo cultures, Creoles, Cajuns, Redbones… While we cannot always battle the elements, or corporate greed with immediate results, we can save our cultural centers…

A few months ago, I received the letter that many people on the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center database received. And most recently, a week or so ago received the news that the Creole Heritage Center needed to become self-sustaining. The preservation of this resource is in our hands, through knowledge and donations. I was shocked that a leading resource in genealogy, scholarship, community outreach and support for people of Louisiana Creole descent was in danger of closing, due to the troubled economic climate and lack of government funding[3]. What can I do, as a Louisiana Creole, scholar, student, and writer? “Well gosh darnit,” I can further awareness. Why does Louisiana Creole matter? And why do scholars, community members and Indigenous descended people need to keep our only National Creole Heritage Foundation/Center alive for future generations? We need this resource because it is our history as a Nation, a vital cultural and linguistic preservation/revitalization resource, and part of our inheritance as Indigenous peoples in the Americas. I will not pretend that this is not of personal concern to myself. Obviously, being of Louisiana Creole descent I am personally invested. While I may not have two nickels to rub together I have a way to contribute, and that is by knowledge making on this vital resource!

I suppose I first must attempt to clarify what is Louisiana Creole. While there has been much debate on what Louisiana Creole culture and heritage is, particularly in reference to the later French European populations, and other “mestizo” or creolized/mixed-blood populations (in Louisiana), there is a consensus among scholars, and community members alike. “In Louisiana Creoles: Cultural Recovery and Mixed-Race Native American Identity, Andrew Jolivette takes on the task of defining Creole identity as it specifically relates to American Indian descent and inheritance. According to Jolivette and the Creole heritage center in Louisiana, Louisiana Creoles are defined as peoples of mixed American Indian, African (Black/West Indies), French, and Spanish ancestry who reside in or have familial ties to Louisiana.” [4]What does this mean, well for my family, and for myself as scholar, it means that Louisiana Creole Indigeneity is a part of the grander narrative of American Indian survivance, negotiation and survival, in similar ways that Chicano/a Mestizo, Canadian Métis narratives are part of the Indigenous narratives of the Americas.[5] While my academic scholarship focuses a great deal on Louisiana Creole Indigeneity, it is not the time or place to pose a purely academic argument.

However, it is the time and place to let the general public know that a vital historic resource and preservation/revitalization source is in danger of closing for all Americans, regardless of race or cultural inheritance. I strongly urge those in Indigenous/Indigenous descended communities, other communities of color, and those of any inheritance who want to preserve resources for the unique and diverse culture of the American South, to take the time to help protect our unique history as members of this Nation. The Louisiana Creole narrative is a vital narrative of the U.S., Indigenous experience, African American experience, and racial/intermarriage politic. Louisiana has long fascinated, and continues to fascinate travelers, critical race scholars, linguistic studies, scholars of race and ethnicity, and the media. It is a decidedly unique state, whose history of intermarriage, indigenous presence, racial law and practice has given rise to decidedly distinct cultural communities. And most assuredly, the Louisiana Creole community is a wealth of historic experience on race, indigeneity, material culture and even tourism.

For me while my Mvskogean ancestry/inheritance is intricately linked, kin-tied if you will, to my Louisiana Creole heritage, the two are separate but related. It is more than the Choctaw grandma who married that Creole boy, or that Creek-Creole grandma who married the Choctaw-Creole pappy. Being Creole is to be tri-racial, to have an inheritance that is braided alongside, Indian, African, French and Spanish, into a new unique culture: a métis or mestizo culture. For me, being of Mvskogean descent (Choctaw and Creek) is to be of Indian descent, and it is as distinct as my mother’s Canadian Sioux métis father who crossed the border from Alberta in the early 1930’s. The various Indian bloodlines that comprise my Creole inheritance are what makes my Creole heritage Mestizo, a weaving of Indian, Black and French/Spanish into something distinctly Louisiana, distinctly Mestizo… I consider myself a multiracial Indigenous woman, who grew up in a Mestizo house and culture; a woman of Mvskogean (Louisiana Choctaw/Creek), Louisiana Creole, Canadian Sioux and CelticAmerican descent…(Yes I embrace the totality of my racial/cultural inheritance) This personal explanation of “identity”[6] aside, I honestly believe that preserving the Louisiana Creole Culture is as vitally important as saving any other Indigenous culture, or métis, mestizo community. Creoles while carrying unique voices of African American experience, also carry Indigenous bloodlines of many South Eastern tribes, and this blood manifests itself in cultural inheritance, language, material culture and familial practices. Louisiana Creoles hold a place in American History, Entertainment, Science and Technology, and are testimony to valiant survival of mixed race culture and identity in the American South. To preserve the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center is to preserve histories of racism, of intermarriage, indigeneity, architecture, food-ways, material culture, oral narratives, pidgin languages, genealogy and of course law.

The Creole Heritage Center of Louisiana, is now accepting donations to help keep the doors and resources open, for all of us. Please visit the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center letter for survival at: http://vintage.nsula.edu/creoleapps/documents/ClosureONLINE.pdf, the new Emergency Monthly Creole Support page: http://creole.nsula.edu/assets/Foundation/Just8.htm
Or the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center Website at: http://creole.nsula.edu/
Yakoke, Mvto, Mesi, Pilamaya` Thanks Y’all


[1] This editorial in no way represents the voice of the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center, its affiliates or a unified Louisiana Creole community voice. I am expressing my concern and opinion as an individual of Louisiana Creole and American Indian descent, any differences of opinion should be addressed to me alone, and not the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center.
[2] L Rain C Gomez, Smoked Mullet Cornbread Memory,(Forthcoming); winner Native Writers Circle of the Americas, First Book Award Poetry 2009.
[3] Please see the letter on the possible closing of the Creole Heritage Center: http://vintage.nsula.edu/creoleapps/documents/ClosureONLINE.pdf
both the state and federal levels, and well beyond our control, have put our Center in this position.
[4] Andrew Jolivette, Louisiana Creoles: Cultural Recovery and Mixed-Race Native American Identity, 6. Taken from: L. Rain C-Cranford-Gomez, “Brackish Bayou Blood: Weaving Mixed-Blood Indian Creole Identity Outside the Written Record,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 32, no. 2 (2008): 98.
[5] L. Rain C Gomez, “On Sienna and Cole Colored Thighs: Sex, Slavery and the Indian/Creole Body Colonized,” SW/TX PCA ACA Conference 2010.
[6] While I am not a fan of breaking down and “bordering” concepts of identity, let alone Indigenous identity, I also recognize the sometimes hostile environment of defining and relating American Indian identity in our colonized Americas. In explaining my personal relationship to my multiracial Indigenous heritage, I seek only to clarify they ways in which I express my Indianess, in light of legal, tribal, community, familial and governmental politic.

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