Episode Two: Dream a Different Dream

This week we talked with Monique Verdin -- an environmental activist, documentary filmmaker, and citizen of the United Houma Nation -- about how the oil and gas industries have affected her tribal community in southeastern Louisiana.


Cypress Cemetery. Photo by Andy Cook.

Cypress Cemetery. Photo by Andy Cook.


Monique tells this story in her documentary film, My Louisiana Love, which was directed by Sharon Linezo Hong. By following Monique’s family during the time between Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, the film reveals the contemporary dilemmas faced by the Houma Nation. Monique sat down with us on a rainy day in New Orleans to discuss the documentary, her environmental activism, and why we should all care about what’s happening in Louisiana.


Monique Verdin

Monique Verdin


The United Houma Nation is a mixed band of Indigenous people who are from and still live in the Mississippi River Delta. Monique explains that long before the colonization of what we now know as New Orleans, the area was a place for trade for several Indigenous peoples. The Houma originally lived in an area north of Baton Rouge, but as Monique describes, they moved south to avoid Removal: “I always say that we dodged the Trail of Tears by going deep into the Delta and living at the ends of the earth.” After the Houma were forced into the Delta, their land rights were taken from them by people who wanted to harvest mink, otter, and muskrat furs in the region. Monique sees a continuity between these colonizers, the plantation economy, and the oil and gas industries that followed, as they each continued to usurp Houma land rights.


Monique's grandmother, Matine, is a central figure in the documentary.

Monique's grandmother, Matine, is a central figure in the documentary.


When asked about the current issues facing the Houma Nation, Monique explains how they are related to historical traumas. She also describes the complex relationship between the oil and gas industries and the Houma people: while oil companies dredge canals through wetlands and build oil waste pits in the backyards of indigenous communities, the Houma work force is nearly completely dependent on the oil and gas industries for jobs. Climate change also presents a major threat to Houma communities, as the sea level rises and tropical storms become stronger and more frequent. Even the plan for coastal restoration and “non-structural adaptation” depends on deep-water drilling, drawing its funding from the royalties that will be collected by Gulf states for offshore drilling beginning in 2018 through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). Funding via GOMESA also faces threats from the current administration, who propose routing royalties to the National Treasury.


The webs and pipelines of southeastern Louisiana. Cartography by Jakob Rosenzweig.

The webs and pipelines of southeastern Louisiana. Cartography by Jakob Rosenzweig.


As Monique screens the documentary in locations outside of Louisiana, she interacts with people who question why southern Louisiana is facing the environmental challenges she explores in the documentary. Monique emphasizes that the current issues aren’t due to isolated events such as Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil disaster. Instead, they have been building over many decades. Southern Louisiana has made many sacrifices for the nation, but instead of recognizing those sacrifices, others tend to blame those who live in coastal areas for their difficulties without understanding the historical context.


A 3 minute trailer for the documentary film, MY LOUISIANA LOVE.

We encourage you to check out My Louisiana Love, which will be available to stream for free between July 18 and July 24 as part of the Vision Maker “40 Years, 40 Films” series, which celebrates 40 years of Indigenous cinema. During that week, it will also be airing on many local public television stations across the U.S.

From Instagram, #visionmakermedia