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Few native Americans managed to retain their ancestral lands so when I visited the Chitimacha Museum in Charenton, Louisiana and found that the Chitimacha still retained some of their original homelands in Louisiana, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about these little known people. Tahra Demarco, Museum Services Specialist, led us through the museum and was willing to tell us about her people.



An exhibit of the beautiful basketry of the Chitimacha
The museum is small but has a lot of information about current tribal activates and past history. A key item seen in the museum is the beautiful baskets which have become so valuable. The few weavers that still retain the knowledge have long waiting lists for their baskets.  She explained that the basket weaving of the Chitimacha was one of their most prized skills. Over the years it was almost lost. A very few of the elders of the tribe still retain the ancient knowledge and are currently giving classes to younger tribe members. The first task that the students must master is the harvesting, drying of the river canes and splitting them into the strips to make the baskets. If they cannot master this, they go on farther. If they can. they can go on to carry on a proud native tradition. Present chief, John Paul Dawden, his wife, Scarlett, and his sister Melissa Darden, are some of the skilled men and women who have mastered the art of basket weaving. Each basket is unique and tells a story of the Chitimacha people. If you see a red straw woven into the hem of each basket it means it was created by  a weaver from the Darden family. To Melissa, the craft is very important.  &"I feel that this is a way of preserving the natural history of my culture."



Some examples of Chitimacha culture: a tribal chief, clothing and artifacts

A recent project to preserve the culture is the Rosetta Stone Software language project which enables tribal members to learn Sitimaxa, their native language.

The museum tells so much of the traditional history of the people. their costumes and customs are preserved here. Near the entrance you face a replica of Chief Framboise who greets you with the words, "Caqaad kaskec name qaxt xahyte," meaning "Welcome to the bend in the bayou."

Scot McCue, Cypress Bayou Casino executive chef
An ancient dugout 27 feet, 4 1/2 inches long holds a place of honor high on the wall and is one of the oldest artifacts here, dating back about 500 years. Living in swampy St. Mary Parish on the Atchafalaya Basin of Louisiana, dugouts were an important part of Chitimacha life. In fact they called themselves "the people of the waters."

A visit to the museum is a walk through time. However, like all cultures, the Chitimacha while striving to preserve the heritage of their ancestors are planted firmly in the 21st century. In addition to the museum, they invite you to visit their Cypress Bayou Casino and Hotel.

We dined at Cafe Bayou, one of seven dining spots at the casino. The slots were tempting me but the food was calling even louder. I had the Shrimp Arcadiana, a delicious concoction of six huge shrimp baked in a crabmeat dressing and topped with mozzarella cheese. It came with fries and native style corn. Scot McCue, Cypress Bayou Casino executive chef, visited with us while we ate. He came to the casino from Tucson, Arizona and is not a native Chitimacha but he said he feels like "they have adopted me." (For more about Cajun dining click here)

This is a unique slice of Louisiana they you should not miss.

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