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Community Collections Grants: “And We are Still Here:” Stories of Resilience and Sustainability from Houma Culture Bearers in Louisiana

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog by Folklife Specialist Guha Shankar who interviews Community Collections Grant recipient Professor Tammy Greer (and team) about their project, “And We are Still Here:” Stories of Resilience and Sustainability from Houma Culture Bearers in Louisiana. This post is part of the Of the People blog series featuring the 2022 awardees of the AFC’s Community Collections Grants. The Community Collections Grants program is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path initiative, which seeks to create new opportunities for more Americans to engage with the Library of Congress and to add their perspectives to the Library’s collections, allowing the national library to share a more inclusive American story.

An action photo of Monique Verdin (interviewer), Kaliq Sims (videographer) and R.J. Molinere (artist) travel around Lake Long, behind Grand Bois, in an airboat, July 2022. Photo by Tammy Greer.

Monique Verdin (interviewer), Kaliq Sims (videographer) and R.J. Molinere (artist) travel around Lake Long, behind Grand Bois, in an airboat, July 2022. Photo by Tammy Greer.

Professor Tammy Greer’s project is a wide ranging, multi-site survey of material culture traditions still practiced in Houma communities in Louisiana. In her Community Collections Grant application, Professor Greer described a number of the arts and crafts pursued by her fellow citizens of the United Houma Nation and the natural resources they rely upon to maintain their ways of life. She noted: “Many of our tribal members still live off the land and practice traditional crafts such as basket weaving, wood carving, blowgun construction, palmetto hut construction, and moss doll making. The native plants, including palmetto, cane, white oak, long leaf pine needles, cypress and cedar, used for basket-making, are still available along the bayous as are the black walnut, honey locust, red oak and other native trees used for carving.” In my interview with her, she elaborated on the progress that she and project team members – documentarians Monique Verdin and Kaliq Sims, and Houma traditional artist, Janie Luster – have made since they launched the initiative in Summer 2022.

A promotional graphic featuring a portrait photograph of Community Collections Grant recipient Professor Tammy GreerIn your proposal for the grant project, you noted that your documentation of Houma cultural practices seeks to encompass not just artistic practices, but also broader historical and social factors that continue to pose major challenges to your community’s lifeways. You stated: Our culture, including our material culture, values, knowledge of the land and community cohesion are threatened.Your intended approach to bring these critical issues into the light was to have practitioners articulate their experiences about Houma cultural history, environmental degradation, and generational change. How has this approach actually worked out in the course of your fieldwork?

It has been surprising, but also heartwarming, that our tribal artists have been very open with us. The information we have gathered covered more territory than I expected. Most elders spoke about segregation in the public school system that they, themselves, experienced, with Houma Natives having their own schools and an 8th grade limit in those Native schools. Most elders spoke about how access to native plants, and other materials needed for their art, is becoming increasingly harder to navigate. Most spoke about the rising bayous and coastal waters, and about more frequent and increasingly devastating hurricanes. They spoke about the loss of understanding of our cultural ways, especially among youth. And, as well, they spoke of their art forms – half-hitch coil palmetto baskets, cypress baskets, four-strand braided palmetto baskets, wood carvings, palmetto huts, clay ovens, wattle and daub huts, and Spanish moss dolls.

For instance, this video compilation of excerpts from project interviews provides a sense of the range of Houma community perspectives and topics – not to mention the unexpected hilarity that sometimes occurs in the course of fieldwork!

Read the rest of the interview here!

An Important Honor for Joy Harjo and “Living Nations, Living Words”

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo continues to earn praise for her work in the position. On October 26th at its annual convention, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries., and Museums (ATALM) presented one of its Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards to the Library of Congress and Harjo for “Living Nations, Living Words,” her signature project as the nation’s first Native American poet laureate. Her project features a sampling of work by 47 Native American poets through an interactive Story Map and a newly developed Library of Congress audio collection. Each location marker reveals a Native poet and features an image, biography and link to hear the poet recite and comment on an original poem. Read more about it in this blog post!

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Pamyua’s Modern Yup’ik Drumsongs

We’re excited to continue the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Pamyua, a trio performing traditional Inuit (Yup’ik) drumsongs from Alaska with a distinct and unique American sound. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore! Together for more than 15 years, Pamyua (pronounced Bum yo-ah) has entertained millions with their fusion of traditional Inuit music and Yup’ik dance performance. Founding members Phillip Blanchett, Stephen Blanchett and Ossie Kairaiuak are from the Yukon/ Kuskokwim River Delta region in southwestern Alaska. Pamyua found national recognition in 2003, winning Record of the Year at the Native American Music Awards, and is now considered a cultural treasure across the circumpolar north. Native People magazine praised their “blizzard of interlocking harmonies” and Alaska magazine rated them “one of the 10 greatest Alaska artists of the millennium.” The group has performed at distinguished events worldwide, including the 25th Anniversary of Greenlandic home rule, which was attended by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and the grand opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Homegrown Plus: PIQSIQ Inuit-Style Throat Singing

It’s been a while since we posted a Homegrown Plus post! In this ongoing series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with PIQSIQ, an Inuit style throat singing duo who characterize their style as being “galvanized by darkness and haunting northern beauty.”

PIQSIQ is composed of sisters Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik and Kayley Inuksuk Mackay. These talented performers come together to create a unique duo, performing ancient traditional songs along with new compositions. The two grew up in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, with roots in Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost territory. After years of hard work on their music, they have developed their own form, blending haunting melodies and otherworldly sounds. As PIQSIQ, they perform their songs with live improvisational looping, creating a dynamic audience experience that changes with every show. In this blog, you’ll find their November 2020 concert and their February 2021 oral history interview.

Explore Native American Event Videos from the American Folklife Center

Native American events sponsored by the American Folklife Center have provided Indians and Native Alaskans opportunities to present performing arts and lectures at the Library of Congress to reach audiences with their cultural arts and inform people about their cultures, languages, and concerns such as preservation of their traditions. This blog will focus on the […]

Navigating AFC Collections Geographically: Great Plains

The following is a guest post by American Folklife Center head of reference, Judith Gray. Staff at the American Folklife Center continue to use new digital tools to support remote discovery and access for our resources by users of all kinds. Whether you are a community scholar, a teacher, an academic researcher, a creative artist, […]

Navigating AFC Collections Geographically: Pacific Region States

Staff at the American Folklife Center continue to use new digital tools to support remote discovery and access for our resources by users of all kinds. Whether you are a community scholar, a teacher, an academic researcher, a creative artist, or a curious consumer of local culture we hope that our geographically-oriented research guides offer […]

The Power of Words, the Power of Belonging: What the Navajo Code Talkers Taught Me

The following is a guest post by Nathan Cross, VHP Archivist and primary author of VHP’s Navajo Code Talkers LibGuide. The Veterans History Project (VHP) is pleased to announce a new resource designed to introduce VHP’s holdings related to the veterans known as Navajo Code Talkers. These veterans, Native Americans who served in the Pacific […]

VHP’s Newest Online Exhibit: Legacies of Service: Celebrating Native Veterans

Today the Veterans History Project (VHP) launches a new online exhibit, part of our Experiencing War web feature series. Entitled “Legacies of Service: Celebrating Native Veterans,” the exhibit explores the lives and service experiences of 18 Native veterans who served in conflicts from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the treatment of their […]