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Risings & Tidings: Land Loss and Resilience at Atchafalaya NHA

Water defines the story of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. In this region, people have adapted to living with—and often in spite of—water. Its rivers and bayous guide the region’s people, places, and traditions. But what happens to culture when water forces community migration?

Changing waterways, human interventions and climate change have all contributed to land loss along Louisiana’s coast. An area approximately the size of Delaware has disappeared off the coast since the 1930s, leaving many communities in tatters. As the land and people disappear, the culture of the region is at risk of washing away. Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is currently working together with the Bayou Culture Collaborative to address this “wicked problem”.
Four pelicans float in wide blue river bordered by bayou marshland
Pelicans float off the coast of Cocodrie, LA, a community facing challenges related to land loss.

Courtesy of Atchafalaya NHA

The Bayou Culture Collaborative, a program of Louisiana Folklife, supports coastal communities’ documentation of their cultural traditions. The program provides two types of workshops for Louisiana’s coastal parishes. “Sense of Place—and Loss” brings together artists, tradition bearers, and scientists to explore the interconnectivity of their trades to inspire advocacy and creativity relating to land loss and cultural shifts. “Passing It On” workshops support a master craftsperson to teach their tradition to others, ensuring the practice continues.

In a dynamic region dominated by land loss, protecting culture requires an understanding of history, ecology, arts, and social sciences. This knowledge of how culture and environment are intertwined has positioned ANHA as a valuable resource to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, as decisions are made regarding preserving coastal Louisiana in the face of a changing climate.