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Louisiana's Houma Nation Was Devastated By Hurricane Ida

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Hurricane Ida and its aftermath left dozens of people dead and lives and properties destroyed. It is a wake-up call about the accelerating effects of climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels. In a minute, we'll hear from the mayor of Jersey City on what happened there. But first, we go to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, where 15 Native American tribes were in the direct path of Hurricane Ida last week. The Houma Nation is the largest with 19,000 members spread across six parishes, and it's suffered some of the worst damage. August Creppel is the chief of the Houma Nation, and he joins us now from Gretna, La. Welcome, sir, to the program.

AUGUST CREPPEL: Well, thank you for having me. (Speaking non-English language). I want to thank you for having us on here, so we can share our story, you know, with so many people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, please tell me your story. What are you seeing right now? What are you facing in the wake of the storm?

CREPPEL: This is one of the largest storms to hit the Louisiana coast. And all our people live, you know, along the Gulf Coast. And some of them are fishermen and things like that. We are state-recognized tribes, not federally recognized, so we get no state privileges or anything. Anything we want or need, we have to try to get it ourselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was about to ask, what are your tribe members asking for? What do they need? What are they saying?

CREPPEL: Well, some of our people evacuated to shelters. Some of our people - we have a working relationship with the Mississippi band of Choctaws, and they took some of our people up that way. The rest of our people that had to move and have no place - they go stay with family and friends.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you been able to get some help?

CREPPEL: We have help that's on the way. The Lumbee tribe in North Carolina and different places and the churches are getting truckloads of stuff to come down. As for today, it's, you know, 110 degrees in some place with the heat index. So we're not only dealing with, you know, the aftermath of the storm. We're also dealing with heat down here, you know?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your day job is as a firefighter. I understand you've worked 24-hour shifts for more than a week now.

CREPPEL: Yeah, actually, I'm a firefighter - will be 40 years next month. And, you know, we working from - most of the time from sunup to sundown. And, you know, each day brings something different.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mentioned that you are a state-recognized tribe but not a federally recognized tribe. How does that affect the kinds of support and relief that you can get from the federal government?

CREPPEL: Well, as a state-recognized tribe, majority of the time we don't get any support from the federal government. We hardly get any support from the state government. You know, again, we're the largest tribe in Louisiana. And we have to wait in line just like everybody else in the state. Ninety percent of the help we get is help that - people reached out to us, or we reached out to them, you know, as - and been to Washington several times fighting for federal recognition because it bring in funds and education for our kids. It brings in help programs for our elders. You know, this is a very big fight for me. We the same people that they wouldn't let in the public schools until the 1960s, and now we have to fight so hard to prove that we Native for us to be federally recognized.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what do you think you most need at this particular point in time?

CREPPEL: Water. We got in touch with, you know, different organizations about bringing in generators and blue tarps and equipment, like chainsaws and cleaning supplies and baby products. You know, I mean, we still in a blind because some places we can't get to. We have low cell phone service. We hardly have any internet, and we have none down in lower - Terrebonne and Lafourche parish.

CREPPEL: Chief August, how are you feeling after seeing all this devastation and knowing that so many in your community are hurting and maybe even have to leave?

CREPPEL: Well, you know, it hurts. You know, again, as a Native pastor, I got to give my my glory to God every day just for waking me up for that day, but I have to lean on him to give me strength to not only serve as much as a firefighter but also to serve 19,000 citizens of my tribe. One of the worst things that hurts is to see how much my people's lives changed just in a few hours, and there was nothing I can do about it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: August Creppel is the chief of the Houma Nation in Louisiana. We wish you all the best in your recovery. And our thoughts will be with you.

CREPPEL: I thank you and appreciate it. And if anyone, you know, want to, you know, donate and help out in any kind of way, even if you just send in love and prayers, we appreciate that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.