Chief Crying Eagle, also known as Edward Chretien Jr., shows off the alligator head he brought to Saturday's gathering. Historically, the Atakapa-Ishak tribe used every almost part of the alligator. Alligator fat was used a bug repellant. (Ashley Withers / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, September 24, 2012 4:24 PM
A change in leadership is breathing new life into the Atakapa-Ishak tribe, a group of Native Americans located in Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas.
Edward Chretien Jr. became the principal chief of the tribe in May and has made it his primary goal to unify and educate the tribe.
Chretien held an information session for Attakapas and interested community members Saturday morning at Riverside Park on Fitzenreiter Rd. The event was the first gathering led by Chretien.
“This event is to introduce myself as the new principal chief of this tribe and also to educate the people about our culture and our history, especially the younger kids,” Chretien said.
“We are one of the aboriginal tribes of Louisiana and we lived all along these water shores and I want to educate the people on our history.”
Historically, the Attakapas lived on the Northeast shore of Lake Charles and the Calcasieu Parish name originated from their language. Calcasieu means “Crying Eagle” in Attakapan and the chief of the tribe is always called Chief Crying Eagle. Chretien follows that tradition.
“We have to continue living in the native way and continue honoring the previous chiefs. I have to carry his name to honor him, not myself.”
Chretien said he has always been passionate about the Attakapan culture.
“I had a passion for my identity. I was born and raised in Louisiana and all my people were born and raised here. My family goes back to the last 1700s that I’ve traced,” he said.
“I want my ancestors that went on before me and those that went on after me to know their identity. That’s my passion.”
The tribe’s history is deeply ingrained in the culture of Southwest Louisiana.
Tasso and oyster pie are traditional Attakapan foods and Zydeco is a version of the tribe’s “good time dance.”
Chretien brought tribal artifacts to the gathering as well as informational pamphlets to help educate event attendees.
Gerald Abshire traced his lineage and got involved with the tribe about three years ago.
“I was trying to find out where my family came from,” he said. “I came out today just to be enlightened and to learn more about it and how they lived.”
Abshire brought Janet Severdia to the event. Severdia is not a member of the tribe, but she said she attends Attakapan events “every chance” she gets.
“I’m interested in learning about the Native Americans. It broadens my horizons,” she said.
Chretien said the tribe has around 1,800 registered members.
“We have people that are scattered about that I want to reunite. I need to unify my people. That’s my goal.”
Beyond unification, the tribe faces another issue — acknowledgement. The tribe is recognized by the U.S., Louisiana and Texas, but it is not acknowledged, meaning that the tribe is extinct in the eyes of the government.
Chretien said he has already started the application process and hopes the tribe will be acknowledged soon.
“We are going to educate the tribe and be ready to present to the government why we should be acknowledged. We’re going to be ready and it’s going to happen.”
Posted By: Travis Bass On: 9/24/2012
Title: Great Article
I also attended this event and thought it was great education for those whose roots may not be of Native origin, but who'd like to learn more about all cultures. I definitely we all should embrace events,such as this to broaden our knowlegde about all those who lived in those times and paved the way for us all now.
Posted By: Shimeka Bass On: 9/24/2012
Title: Great Feature
Great to see Lake Charles bringing in Native American culture and diversity into Lake Charles. Great lessons for children of all cultures.