Effort to save Indian burial mound hits snag

By Naomi King
Dulac, Louisianna (AP) 7-08

A tribe lost a $45,800 grant that members had hoped would aid their efforts to buy Dulac land that’s home to a large earthen mound built centuries ago by their ancestors.

The Terrebonne Parish Council decided in a 7-2 vote during July to redirect the state-government grant to improvements at a hurricane-supply warehouse in Houma.

Council members Alvin Tillman and Teri Cavalier voted against the move, saying they want the grant to remain dedicated to purchasing the Indian mound.

But now that one door is closed, another could open for the United Houma Nation, whose members say they may be eligible for other grants and programs.

“To be honest, it’s almost a blessing,” said Michael Billiot, a tribal member and attorney. “We may be able to find a grant that doesn’t require the (local) government’s involvement.”

For several months, Houma tribal members had talked with the property’s owners but the two sides could not agree on a price for the Shrimpers Row lot. Questions also surfaced about how to use the grant, which required that the land was owned by a public body.

At a June 5 meeting between parish officials, tribal leaders and one of the property owners, developer and landowner S.P. LaRussa, announced the property was being taken off the market. LaRussa said he did not want to work with parish government any longer.

Considering these developments, Council Chairman Clayton Voisin, whose district includes Dulac, said he began looking for other uses for the grant money. The Council on Aging had asked council members for help with its new warehouse, he said.

The grant now will be used to ramp up security at the one-story building, which also needs more dirt on the property, said Diana Edmonson, Council on Aging director.

The bulk of the council agreed with Voisin, voting on July 7 to use the money for security improvements at the warehouse.

However, Tillman said he never knew the grant was up for grabs. Though he said the grant should have remained allocated to the mound purchase, he also said he is “amazed” his previous pleas for an African American museum was not considered as an alternative for the money.

Tillman pitched the museum idea last year, when the council was deciding how to use the grant.

Like Tillman, council members, United Houma Nation members and even Parish President Michel Claudet said they didn’t know Voisin planned to ask for the grant change until they saw it on the council’s agenda this month.

Councilman Johnny Pizzolatto said he voted in favor of Voisin’s proposal because he wants to use the money as soon as possible. The United Houma Nation can apply for next year’s round of local government-assistance grants, he said.

But an agreement between local government and the tribe may not even be necessary, according to Billiot.

During a recent visit to Baton Rouge, Billiot said, he spoke with the former Terrebonne Parish manager, who served in that capacity for a few weeks in January before taking a position in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Natalie Robottom is now head of the office that doles out the assistance grants.

“I do not think those efforts will go in vain,” Billiot said.