History of the Chitimacha

The Chitimacha Indians (Sitimaxa-"people of the many waters") were the original inhabitants of the area. Around 500 A.D., the Chitimacha began settling the bayou region of Louisiana, where they lived in permanent villages in homes constructed of cane, wood and palmetto leaves. They raised corn for hominy and meal and were excellent hunters and fishermen. The plentiful shellfish of the area were an important part of their diet. Of the traditional crafts practiced by the Chitimacha, they are most famed for their extraordinary skill at basketry. Chitimacha baskets were made from wild cane reed, dyed naturally and woven into geometric designs.

The Chitimacha in this area lived along the Bayou Teche (a Chitimacha word meaning "snake"). Their legend has it that the bayou was formed when Chitimacha warriors battled a huge venomous serpent that terrorized the region. The snake was miles in length and as it twisted and writhed in death, it deepened the mud where it lay, forming the sinuous course of the bayou.

Wars with the French and Spanish during the early 1700s left the Chitimacha near extinction. In the mid 1800s, the Chitimacha obtained a governmental decree establishing title to 1,062 acres of land, but by the early 1900s there were only 260 acres remaining in tribal hands. In 1918, Sarah McIlhenny (of the Tabasco family) helped petition the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the tribe?s federal recognition. Today, the Chitimacha Reservation encompasses 283 acres of land. Approximately 350 tribal members live on the reservation of a total tribal membership of approximately 900.