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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Visiting the lowlands of Louisiana gives Presbyterians firsthand view of climate change


MRTI and others make a trip earlier this month similar to one undertaken five years ago

May 26, 2024

MRTI members and others who took a trip to the lowlands of Louisiana take a boat trip offered by the Pointe au Chien Indian Tribe. (Photo by Robyn Davis Sekula)

Five years ago, members of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) visited South Louisiana to see the devastating effects of climate change on Native American tribes living in the coastal bayous.

MRTI visited this same area again on March 1 and saw that the same challenges are present, but advocacy, including work by Presbyterians, is helping raise awareness.

At a meeting at the Pointe au Chien Indian Tribe headquarters — in a raised building next to the bayou — members of the tribes outlined the pressures and challenges they are facing to hold on to their identities, their land, and their livelihoods. “They are forcing us out in multiple ways, and not giving us any way to rebuild our lives,” says Elder Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar (Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw).

For nearly three decades, the Pointe au Chien Indian Tribe has been seeking federal recognition. (Photo by Robyn Davis Sekula)

Land is disappearing fast as new canals are created to accommodate industry. Native American Tribes are being forced off their land by the water and by companies who want the property for commercial ventures.

On a boat tour of the area, Donald Dardar, second chair of the Pointe au Chien Indian Tribe, pointed to the land on either side of the canal. “At one time, you could hold your arms out on each side of the boat and touch the grass,” Dardar says. Now, the canal is as wide as a six-lane highway.

There’s a relatively new challenge now: the arrival of tourists and gentrification. For those who love the outdoors and enjoy fishing, this area is a recreational paradise. While there’s not as much land here as there once was, what is available is being bought to create “luxury camps,” says Elder Chief Shirell.

Such visits are part of the work of MRTI, which is a General Assembly Committee that implements the General Assembly’s policies on socially responsible investing by engaging corporations in which the church owns stock. This is accomplished through correspondence, dialogue, voting shareholder proxies and recommending similar action to others, and occasionally filing shareholder resolutions. (Watch a short video that explains MRTI’s work here.)

One measure that would help protect the tribes is federal recognition. There are 15 acknowledged tribes in the area; 11 are state recognized, and only four are federally recognized. Federal recognition carries with it additional protections and assistance, but so far, this has proven elusive.

The trip earlier this month was yet another opportunity for the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment to engage with community members on environmental degradation. (Photo by Robyn Davis Sekula)

Presbyterians have been walking with the Native American tribes in this area for a decade or more. The Rev. Kristina Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor and applied anthropologist, was one of two founders of the Lowlander Center in 2010, which describes its mission as addressing the challenges experienced by people and places that have often been left out of formal decision-making processes.

Williams noted that the presbytery sent an overture to the 226th General Assembly, which will be up for consideration this summer, to develop policy positions for internally displaced people within the United Stated and its territories similar to those addressing the concerns of externally displaced people. This would be helpful to people living in southern Louisiana who are being forced off their land. “We recognize people around the world who are displaced, but not those here in our own country,” Williams says.

The Rev. Kerri Allen, chair of MRTI, participated in both visits, in 2019 and 2024. She’s grateful for the time the tribal communities spent with MRTI as they shared about how climate change is impacting their lives and livelihood.

“I wish I could say that I was surprised by this ongoing degradation of the natural resources, but this is the story of hundreds of years of recklessness with Indigenous communities,” Allen said.

“I was most struck by the ingenuity of the tribes in their mitigation efforts and the beauty in their resistance. Should they have to be constantly fighting for survival? Absolutely not. But I don’t want to dismiss their power, love of self, love of community, and love of Creation that they have faithfully cared for over generations. There is untold wisdom there and we have a lot that we can learn.”

Robyn Davis Sekula is vice president of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation. She is a ruling elder and member of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville. She can be reached at

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, May 26, 2024, Trinity Sunday (Year B)

Today’s Focus: Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI)

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Tyler Holm, Mission co-worker serving in Malawi, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency 
Carl Horton,  Coordinator, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, Compassion, Peace & Justice, Presbyterian Mission Agency 

Let us pray

Spirit of the Living God, wrap us in your love and make us one. Amen.