A Case of Identity: Ethnogenesis of the New Houma Indians

A Case of Identity: Ethnogenesis of the New Houma Indians

Volume 48, Number 3 (Summer 2001)
pages 473-494
DOI: 10.1215/00141801-48-3-473

Dave D. Davis
University of Southern Maine

Throughout the twentieth century, anthropologists and historians have regarded the Houma Indians of southern Louisiana as the descendants of the Houma Indians encountered along the Mississippi River by French explorers and settlers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Oral history of the contemporary Houma traces the group’s origin to Native Americans of the Houma and other tribes who moved into the bayou country of southeastern Louisiana during the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. However, anthropologists and historians from the Bureau of Indian Affairs have concluded that there is no documentary evidence of any cultural or genealogical link between the modern Houma and the Houma of the French colonial period. Available documentary sources indicate that the modern Houma originated in the nineteenth century as a multiethnic group that included Europeans, African Americans, and some Native Americans, none of whom are known to have been Houmas. The genesis of the modern group’s identity as Houma Indians can be understood as a response to legally sanctioned racial classifications and race discrimination in Louisiana from the late nineteenth century on.

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