American Indians in Louisiana

Drawing from 1892 depicting Native American mound builders
This 1892 image shows members of a mound-building tribe working in their corn fields.

Library of Congress

By the time European explorers arrived in the area now referred to as Louisiana, people had been living in the region for at least 10,000 years. Poverty Point National Monument in West Carroll Parish preserves mounds and an archeological site, the remains of a community that was part of an enormous trading network with impressive enbineering skills---a community that had peaked a thousand years before Rome conquered the European and Mediterranean worlds.

At the Barataria Preserve, mounds on a smaller scale give the Bayou Coquille Trail its name: Indians there left mounds of shells ("coquille" in French) and other debris from their seasonal camps. Villages hosted a number of buildings and structures. Mounds were built by these indigenous people as burial and ceremonial structures. Mound-building cultures would have been found throughout the North and South America land masses. These mound-building cultures existed as early as 4,500 BCE.

The first European explorers left the first written records about American Indians in the southeastern United States. Members of Hernando de Soto's expedition described several Indian villages along the Mississippi River. When European colonization began in the 1700s, historians estimate that 13,000 to 15,000 native people lived in Louisiana, speaking 22 distinct languages. New diseases brought by outsiders, wars, government-forced displacement, and competition for land and food led to a major decline of Indian populations in Louisiana.

Native peoples' understanding of the environment contributed to the success of many European, Asian, and African settlements. Indians shared their knowledge of medicinal plants, seasonal patterns for floods and seafood harvests, and agricultural and building skills suited to the local landscape and handed down for generations.

Today, there are four federally-recognized tribes in Louisiana: the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, and the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana. The United Houma Nation is recognized as a tribe by the state of Louisiana.

Last updated: December 3, 2021

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