The tribe “has suffered loss of use of its historical and cultural lands, including tribal cemeteries, Indian mounds, shell middens and traditional fisheries,’’ according to the complaint, filed in federal court in New Orleans on April 15.
“Use of these lands has been lost from April 20, 2010, to the present,’’ the complaint alleged, citing the date the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up while drilling an offshore well for BP. The tribe said it has an “an aboriginal land title claim’’ to the damaged areas.
The Pointe Au Chien case is the first oil-spill damages suit filed by any of Louisiana’s American Indian tribes. BP faces thousands of claims and more than 350 lawsuits seeking damages from individuals and businesses harmed by oil that gushed from its damaged subsea well last year.
The Pointe Au Chien tribe numbers roughly 680 members and isn’t one of four federally recognized tribal nations in Louisiana, according to its lawyer in the case, Joel Waltzer. The Pointe Au Chien, which has settled the reedy coastal marshlands for centuries, are recognized by the state of Louisiana.
Most of the tribe’s members are subsistence or commercial oystermen or fishermen, Waltzer said in an interview last year. During the off-season, many work in the oil industry as tug boat drivers or on offshore supply vessels.
“They are people of the water,’’ Waltzer said. “They know the marshes better than you know your home. That’s why I think the Unified Command found them invaluable to the cleanup effort.’’
The Pointe Au Chien’s tribal lands straddle the border between Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes, including the northern sections of Timbalier and Terrebonne Bays, Lake Chien and Lake Raccourci, according to their complaint.
The tribe seeks compensation for lost tax revenue and income, decline in property values, spill cleanup costs, restoration of its damaged natural resources, and punitive damages.
BP spokesman Daren Beaudo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the tribe’s lawsuit.
The case is In Re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” Local Government Entities, 2:10-cv-09999, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at firstname.lastname@example.org; Allen Johnson Jr. in New Orleans at email@example.com.