Lending support & critical information for hurricane recovery

Collaborative heritage management for community resilience in the Mississippi River Delta 

Nathan Jessee, Lowlander Center and High Meadows Environmental Institute, Princeton University


Layla Sastry, Tufts University


Chief Devon Parfait, Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians

Elder Rosina Philippe, First People’s Conservation Council


Innovation and Description: Collaborative Heritage Management and Mapping for Community Resilience in the Mississippi River Delta

This grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an institutional and community collaboration that aims to mitigate cultural loss, sustain community, and advance cultural resilience by funding collaborative humanities work alongside Indigenous and Southeast Asian American communities in the Mississippi River Delta and Bayou region of Louisiana. Building on long-standing participatory action research and language and cultural accessibility initiatives of the proposed partner organizations, CCR funds will foster cultural resilience by supporting the identification, documentation, mapping, and stewarding of heritage and place-based knowledge while enhancing community capacity for such work. Proposed activities include supporting community values and community-driven modes of cultural heritage management through discussions and innovation focused on culturally appropriate data management, the creation of Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) for cultural knowledge-sharing, and participatory research and story mapping.

Other Participants:

Dr. Simi Kang (Coastal Communities Consulting & University of Victoria-British Columbia), Dr. Kristina Peterson (Lowlander Center), Sandy Ha Nguyen (Coastal Communities Consulting Inc.), Sophia Mullen (Lowlander Center)

Primary Disaster Justice Benefits:

Primarily, the proposed project aims to actively work against histories in which local environmental knowledge is denied, silenced, and weaponized against marginalized communities by powerful decision-makers. The proposed project will build upon long-standing community efforts to use participatory and inclusive methodologies to document, map, curate, steward, and share local expertise and collective experiences necessary for cultural survival and community continuity in the throes of ongoing socio-ecological threats. By supporting the enhancement of community standards and processes, documenting and representing cultural heritage, and building inter-communal relationships over traditional ecological knowledges and experiences of place, this process aims to advance shared stewardship and community access to critical resources. Such work will enhance cultural resilience and can inform regional planning and policy as well as environmental governance practices more broadly.

Secondary Disaster Justice Benefits:

Additionally, funds will support community oral history and spatial research to inform the creation of maps for community and tribal archiving and display. This innovation is crucial in communities already facing displacement as a result of ecological threats. Over 2,000 square miles of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has sunk and eroded away due to regional development. Oil and gas extraction, dams, and levees are the main culprits. On top of these factors, global climate change poses an increasing risk of more extreme weather and sea level rise in the region. The exposure of population with high social vulnerability, 65,574, is disproportionately high, 40% greater than would be expected by chance alone. Displaced people in the region experience disrupted networks, shared rituals, religious institutions, kinship structures, and social cohesion. Representing what remains and what is remembered of these eroded social geographies is important for holding onto them.

Would you recommend others (disaster survivors, disaster-impacted communities) learn more about the activity, project or program to consider adoption of a similar one?

This project is dependent upon and aims to further the existing resilience-building strategies , cultural preservation efforts, and local knowledge of communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. We hope that other disaster-impacted communities can see this institutional-community collaboration as both a project from which they can draw strategies and a knowledge pool to which they can contribute.

What refinements additional to the ones you have implemented would you recommend others consider if they wish to adopt the activity, project or program?

If accepted, this project will be dependent on continued communication, redefinition of goals, and efforts to actively maintain mutually beneficial relationships. While it’s currently unknown what refinements will need to be made, we will hone culturally appropriate processes and spaces, consider meaningful variables, and select appropriate media for managing data and producing maps of local knowledge as collaborations unfold.