By Carla Ledbetter, specifically for Donne Tempo MARKSVILLE, La, February 3, 2011. The Tunica and Biloxi Indians have a long, interesting history. During the two hundred years they inhabited their reservation, the tribes, even though they spoke completely different languages, intermarried.
When the Spanish explorer De Soto first encountered the Tunica Tribe in 1541, he found traders and entrepreneurs inhabiting a great center of power, whose influence extended over what is now Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. Under severe pressure from European diseases, famine, and warfare, the Tunica steadily moved southward, following the Mississippi River.
Using their trading skills, the Tunica tribe accumulated unprecedented quantities of European artifacts, which were ultimately stolen from ancestral graves. After a long, hard struggle that laid the foundation for the Federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, they recovered many of their treasures. These artifacts now reside in the Tunica-Biloxi Museum, a building that also serves as a shrine to tribal ancestors.
The current Chairman, Earl J. Barbry, Sr., who is a descendant of hereditary chiefs, works diligently to secure a higher standard of living for his people. Where once there were shacks with no indoor plumbing or running water, there are modern, air conditioned homes, paved dirt roads, and a lake and other recreational facilities receive daily use. In addition, Health Care and Social Services are now available to members.
Under Barbry’s guidance, the tribe seeks to achieve their plans to broaden cultural, artistic, and educational offerings to both tribal members and surrounding communities. Their Tunica-Biloxi Cultural and Educational Resources Center will house a museum, gift shop, library, conservation and restoration, laboratory, auditorium, classrooms, distance learning center, meeting rooms and offices.
The center also plans to offer a variety of programs and initiatives that include, but are not limited to, lecture series from literary, political, and educational arenas, art exhibits, cultural outreach programs that work cohesively with civic and educational facilities, and eventually, college degree programs.
The Tribe has always made community giving a top priority. Some of their efforts include:
- “Sponsor A Grandparent” program, which is a program where tribal youth members deliver gift baskets to elderly nursing home patients
- Christmas Cheer Food Drive for all schools in Avoyelles, Rapides, and Natchitoches parishes. Schools that collect the most food receive prize money from the Tribe
- Sponsoring an annual toy and coat collection
- Participation in the Law Enforcement Torch Run
- Scholarships to local high schools and colleges
- 16th Annual Tunica-Biloxi Pow Wow Festival- May 20-22, 2011
Programs like these help tribe members not only honor their past and build a future, they also help to enrich their community and make it stronger. Like all the individuals, groups and organizations highlighted in this column, the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe members saw a very specific need, found a way to work together to meet it, and in doing so, truly teamed up for success.
In addition to writing articles for the Washington Times Communities, Carla is the author of four published suspense novels, and her latest book, Artful Misdirection, is currently available in Kindle format on Amazon.com. Read more of her work in the Washington Times Communities.