Last stand on the Island

(click to see the gallery)

We are particularly glad, today, to present you Last Stand on the Island, a project by Evan Abramson and Carmen Elsa Lopez.

Evan and Carmen have traveled the world covering stories about hunger, aids,  humanity and environment issues.   Their work is compelling, inspiring and brings attention to issues that we would have never known existed.   Which is why we are bringing to your attention their most recent project “Last Stand on the Island”.

Yelena Posniak/S4C New York

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Last Stand on the Island is a story about the last generations of French-speaking Native Americans who live on an island that’s disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico.

They are the Isle Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaws, descendants of French settlers who took Indian wives and moved to a twenty-four square mile strip of marshland in the mid-1800s.

Once a self-sufficient community of 350 people, who grew their own food, raised cattle, fished, shrimped and hunted, since the exploration of the area by oil companies began in the 1950s, the island has washed away to a mere a quarter-mile wide and half-mile long, its thick forests, gardens and wildlife long gone. After five hurricanes in the last six years, 24 families remain, stubbornly refusing to abandon their ancestral land.

Off the coast of Southern Louisiana lives a man of the sea. Edison Dardar was born on a fisherman’s boat near Isle de Jean Charles, were he has lived his entire 74 years. Each morning, a mixture of howling winds and salty air wakes him up. Half asleep, he climbs on his much-too-small bicycle and starts his journey.

As he pedals down the island, visions of lush, merrier days follow him along skeletons of oak and cypress trees, weathered toys and sofas, exposed bathrooms and deserted driveways that belonged to members of his tribe that are now gone. He follows the flooded Island Road that links his community to the mainland, passing the eroding and expanding canals of the oil and gas industry, into the disappearing marsh, where he climbs off the bike and gracefully casts his net into the water. This is the life he cherishes and he is prepared to shoot you if you get in the way.

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And Chief Albert is getting in the way.

Chief Albert lives in a 3-bedroom brick home with a golf cart and a flat screen TV in suburban Montegut. As the Chief of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe he is fighting for what is best for his community. At 63, he is tired of repairing the destroyed homes of tribal members year after year. The hurricanes will keep coming; the isle will keep sinking. He is fighting to get his tribe out of the isle and into a safer place on the mainland: a fenced-in piece of property with one hundred homes only for members of the tribe.

(click to see the complete gallery)

For Dardar, it’s very much like prison. “What am I going to do every morning when I wake up?  Stare at the road?” A fisherman alien to driving, shopping malls and the more civil suburban life, this forced transformation is worth fighting against. In front of his patched home raised two stories off the ground, Dardar arms himself with $200 worth of ammunition, 4 guns and a hatchet. “I’m fixing on getting my hands on a machine gun,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, adding under his breath, “My land is beautiful, really beautiful. That’s why they all want it.”

(click to see the gallery)

Strangers have been invading Isle Jean Charles since the road was built in 1951. Oil and gas companies started digging canals to transport workers and equipment, which has opened the way to salt water erosion. Dardar’s neighbor and tribal elder Mr. Billiot remembers, “They started digging and digging and it kept on getting worse and worse.” Forests of oak trees used to cover the now barren land around his house. He had vegetable gardens, horses and cows. Now, sitting in front of his porch he stares at the barren landscape and water beyond.  But he and his wife still won’t follow Chief Albert and like Dardar, they’re prepared to fight and to die for the island they love.

by: Carmen Elsa Lopez & Evan Abramson

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You can see a first video here but first let us tell you how YOU can help the project.

Evan and Carmen need to complete the film. They have the story, the contacts and some of the filming in place; they just don’t have the money to finalize this shoot. They turned to Shoot4Change for getting help in spreading the word and see if it’s possible to gather attention on the project.

Please, have a look at the video (and click here to see the page where you can actually donate) and remember that any amount that you’re willing to give will put them one step closer to their goal. Quoting from their website:

Your money will go towards travel, car rental, hiring a second editor, post-production (sound mixing, color correction, festival submissions, DVD printing) as well as a donation to the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaws for future hurricane relief. We have been collaborating with hurricane chasers, tribal chiefs, musicians, sound engineers, animation artists, environmental lawyers, cartographers, historians, students and activists to produce a film that will do justice to Edison’s story. We believe this tribe has been wronged for centuries. Through a combination of your assistance and the facilities we have available to us, we’re confident we can bring awareness to the issue of coastal erosion due to industry negligence. We hope the tribe will get Federal recognition and a greater chance to be included in the Morganza-to-the-Gulf Hurricane Protection Project. The island was excluded because it’s too costly to include within the levee walls.”

S4C likes this project and the model of crowdfunding of its costs. Documentary films and photography has a high cost. Discovering forgotten stories has a cost and, often, one cannot make it alone.

This is wher WE and YOU fit in.

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