Posts Tagged ‘Louisiana’

Photo: Emmett FitzGerald.
Dean Wilson
, protector of Louisiana swampland.

Now that we know how important wetlands are for the environment and for protecting us from the worst effects of hurricanes, it doesn’t seem like a fringe occupation to be a protector of swamps. Among those who take Louisiana’s wetlands seriously is the scrappy nonprofit Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Another defender is Dean Wilson. Emmett FitzGerald at Living on Earth [LOE] interviewed him recently.

“LOE: Once, cypress swamps covered hundreds of thousands of acres across the American South. Logging, oil and gas extraction and swamp drainage transformed the landscape. But over recent years, Dean Wilson has worked to protect the remaining cypress swamps of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin from illegal loggers and oil prospectors. Recently, the European biomass industry has set up shop in the state, and conservationists are concerned for the future. Living on Earth’s Emmett FitzGerald reports. …

“EMMETT FITZGERALD: Dean Wilson doesn’t sound like a Cajun, but he’s been living in the swamps of Southern Louisiana for 30 years now.

“DEAN WILSON: I remember the first time I saw the swamp I fell in love with it. You know you see the beautiful green trees, with the Spanish moss, over water, and those egrets flying around like angels. Uh, I just really fell in love with that.

“FITZGERALD: Dean grew up outside of Madrid, in Spain, but he came to Louisiana in his early twenties on his way to South America. He wanted to get used to the humidity and the mosquitoes before doing scientific research in the Amazon. But he never left the Bayou State.

“WILSON: When I realized I could actually make a living off the land, I decided to stay. I was a commercial fisherman for 16 years, full-time. So I made my living hunting and fishing the swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin for 16 years.

“FITZGERALD: Dean says people call all kinds of marshy wetlands swamps, but true swamps are actually pretty rare, and the Atchafalaya Basin is the largest in the United States.

“WILSON: And the difference between a swamp and a marsh is that a swamp is a flooded forest. So you actually go in the springtime when the waters high you go with a boat through the forest and you can see the birds and the animals the otters minks alligators all the things that live in the swamp. It’s a magnificent place. One of the most beautiful places on earth. The Cypress trees grows to different shapes; they can live to up to 4000 years old. So the Cypresses are incredibly beautiful.

The difference between a swamp and a marsh is that a swamp is a flooded forest.

“FITZGERALD: A few years ago, Dean gave up commercial fishing and turned his attention to protecting the ancient Cypress forest he calls home. Now, Dean patrols the swamp in his little motorboat as the head of the conservation organization Atchafalaya Basinkeeper. Today Dean and I are joined in his boat by his German Shepherd Shanka, and a fellow conservationist.

“PAUL ORR: I’m Paul Orr and I’m Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper. …

“FITZGERALD: Dean pulls the boat through the undergrowth into a clearing in the forest, and suddenly hundreds of giant cypress trees are all around us. Their trunks flare out at the bottom like grass skirts. Dean says this cypress forest is teeming with life.

“WILSON: The swamps of the Atchafalaya are considered by scientists the most productive in the entire world. You can go to the Amazon and you may have more biodiversity, but if you get an acre of the Atchafalaya Basin and you’re supposed to get more pounds of fish and crawfish than any other wetlands in the world.

“FITZGERALD: Full-grown cypress trees have nooks and cavities that birds love to nest in.

“WILSON: Nearly half of the waterfowl population in North America come at one time or another through the Atchafalaya basin. So it is a critically important ecosystem not only for North America but the whole western hemisphere.

“FITZGERALD: As we float between the trunks, Dean says swamps like this one once covered much of the American South.

“WILSON: Most people have seen the Amazon river flooding millions of acres of rainforest. The Mississippi used to do the same thing, used to flood 24 million acres of forest. For somebody to picture how big is 24 million acres, there was a time when you could get in a boat, right now this time of year and through this water, could go through this forest, and never leave the forest all the way to Missouri.

“FITZGERALD: But that five-hundred-mile waterway didn’t last. A lucrative timber industry developed in Louisiana around 1700. And then in the 19th century new steamship technology allowed companies to log southern cypress forests quickly and efficiently.

“WILSON: By the year 1900 it was the largest industry in coastal Louisiana, was the cypress logging industry. Uh, and people thought it would last forever. By 1920, it was all over. They logged every single forest in this state. Didn’t leave a single acre standing.

“FITZGERALD: In 1927, the Mississippi River spilled its banks, killing hundreds of people and displacing hundreds of thousands in the most destructive flood in US history. The Army Corps of Engineers responded to the crisis by building levees all up and down the Mississippi to control the flow of the river. The levees were designed to protect cities like New Orleans, but they straight-jacketed the river and prevented the natural flooding of Louisiana’s cypress swamps.

“WILSON: It drained all those forests. Farmers came in, they cut those trees down and today it’s mainly farmland. When people drive through Arkansas, Northern Louisiana, Mississippi through what is called the Delta area, it’s all farmland but it used to be like the Atchafalaya Basin.

“FITZGERALD: Today although the Atchafalaya Basin is smaller than it once was, it’s still one of last great cypress swamps left in the United States. Like all swamps it’s protected under the federal Wetlands Protection Act, and Dean Wilson and Paul Orr want to do everything in their power to preserve it. In 2008, they noticed an uptick in illegal logging in the Atchafalaya. They followed the supply chain all the way to the garden mulch aisle.

“ORR: We realized pretty quickly from following the logs and then finding bags of cypress mulch and following those to Wal-Mart, Lowes and Home Depot that there was this tremendous push to try and build a cypress mulch industry.

“FITZGERALD: But Dean says the companies that supplied the mulch weren’t clear about where it came from.

“WILSON: Home Depot, Lowes and Wal-Mart were selling the mulch as environmentally harvested. The bags would say ‘Made with environmentally-harvested cypress, from Florida’ – you have a Florida address, so they were actually deceiving the public into buying their mulch.

“ORR: And deceiving the retailers — I think that some of the retailers were not very happy that that was not what they said it was.

“FITZGERALD: So when Paul and Dean brought this issue to the attention of the retailers in 2008, the stores agreed to stop selling Louisiana Cypress mulch. But Dean’s still worried about illegal logging. He says the problem is enforcement.

“WILSON: We have laws to protect wetlands, the problem is those laws are not being enforced, and the government isn’t even putting in the resources to enforce them, they don’t even have a boat, so they can’t be enforced.

“FITZGERALD: And Paul Orr believes that problem starts with the cozy relationship between big business and the state government.

“ORR: I guess it was like the late 90s, early 2000s, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development put an ad in a lot of national publications and it was like a guy in a suit doing a back bend and it said, ‘Louisiana bends over backwards for business.’ And that’s really been the culture in Louisiana — the wealthy business people just give away all of our natural resources and our tax monies and everything for business.”

Oh, Homeowners, here’s a simple thing you can do: don’t buy mulch.

More at Living on Earth, here. There is no firewall, but donations are encouraged.

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Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters.
In Louisiana, climate change is erasing Isle de Jean Charles. French-speaking and indigenous residents are moving to higher ground, amid fears of losing their language and culture.

We all know someone who begins to rebuild right after a natural disaster like a wildfire or hurricane, and who are we to judge? But as extreme weather incidents become more common, some of those most affected are, with aching hearts, facing the necessity to be practical.

Patrick Cox reported at PRI’s the World, “Hurricane Ida killed dozens of Lousianans and displaced tens of thousands of others. Among the hardest hit were bilingual and French-speaking communities close to the Mississippi Delta. 

“Alces Adams lives halfway between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico in the small community of Cut Off in Lafourche Parish. Hurricane Ida destroyed his trailer.

“People in this part of Louisiana — bayou country — have long learned to live under adverse weather conditions. But things have gotten much worse in recent years. Rising sea levels, erosion and storm after storm have flooded entire communities. For some French speakers, Hurricane Ida was the last straw, and now many are moving away.

“A year after Ida, Adams’ trailer looks just as it did the day after the storm — twisted and torn apart with furniture spilling out, as if attacked by a pack of wild animals. Next to it is a new trailer, Adams’ temporary home provided by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Adams was born a block away in his grandparents’ house. His family’s older generation spoke only French. Adams said his grandmother learned English, but refused to speak it, except for one word: ‘Yeah.’ 

“ ‘English was forced on us about 100 years ago,’ Adams said. That’s when English was declared the only language of instruction in public schools. Adams recalled listening to his older relatives as they told him stories in French. Even then, he said, he considered the language beautiful. ‘I loved listening to that.’

“Adams’ grandmother and others told him stories of storms and floods they had survived. It helped prepare him — still a child — when Hurricane Betsy battered the region in 1965. …

“Adams doesn’t know what’s next for him. He comes from a long line of Cajuns who he said were compelled to move from one place to another, to escape poverty or discrimination, or hurricanes and flooding. 

“The French language has been a constant in all of this generational change. Adams knows that each time a French speaker moves away, it’s another micro-blow to the survival of French in southern Louisiana.

“Tulane University linguist Nathalie Dajko has been tracking the decline of French in Lafourche and neighboring Terrebonne Parishes for nearly 20 years. She was in graduate school at Tulane when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. It left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Some even ended up in camps that were scattered across several southern states. Dajko visited a few of the camps as part of a gig she had with Save the Children, a nongovernmental organization.

“ ‘Every now and again, we’d come across these French speakers,’ Dajko said. ‘They would be so excited to meet somebody who spoke French, and they would talk about how they missed the French.’ …

“Louisiana French isn’t standard Parisian French. But French has had longstanding roots in the region after France claimed it in 1682. With the area drawing French speakers, the language gained a foothold. It even spread to local Indigenous tribes in the 1700s. They’d formed protective alliances with the colonial French against the British. Some of their descendants still speak French, especially those who live closer to the ocean — and the floods and storms.

“Across a causeway from one of the larger bayous in Terrebonne Parish is an island called Isle de Jean Charles. Abandoned dwellings are everywhere: collapsed walls, caved-in roofs, debris. A couple of the houses are being fixed up. But most aren’t.  Near the end of the road, a house with a sign outside says, ‘Isle de Jean Charles is not dead.’ … 

“Chris Brunet, who answered the door in a wheelchair, said he spoke French at home and English at school. Like Alces Adams, Brunet’s grandmother only spoke French; his parents were bilingual. Everyone living on the island was a member of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe. …

“ ‘Hurricane Ida is the first storm to damage the house,’ he said, pointing out his damaged roof. … Likely to be gone soon is this entire island. In the past 65 years, Isle de Jean Charles has shrunk from 22,000 acres to just 320. 

“It’s not just the storms. There are many reasons why the land is vanishing: rising sea levels, the rerouting of the Mississippi river — some of it natural, some engineered — canal construction, land erosion, some of that caused by oil and gas extraction. Then there’s the levee system, expanded after Hurricane Katrina: a life-saver for those living within it; potentially catastrophic if you’re on the outside of it.

“That’s why Brunet, and almost everyone else on the island, is leaving, with federal government assistance, to a city 35 miles inland where virtually no one speaks French.

“ ‘If I had to predict, I would suggest that people are not going to maintain French,’ linguist Nathalie Dajko said. … Still, Dajko has studied these French and bilingual communities for close to two decades, and said they’re full of surprises. 

“ ‘People have been predicting the death of Louisiana French for generations and it just won’t die,’ she said.”

More at the World, here. For a refresher on Longfellow’s fictional Evangeline, one of the French-speaking Acadians expelled from Canada to settle in Louisiana, click here.

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Photos: Valaurian Waller.
Ederique Goudia is a chef who came through for her community after Hurricane Ida. She is seen here with a statue commemorating child slaves on the Whitney Plantation — the only museum in Louisiana with an exclusive focus on the lives of enslaved people.

Have you been following the efforts of Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen as they serve the displaced people of Ukraine? Inspirational. Today I have a related story. It’s also about chefs who help desperate people by giving what they know best.

Xander Peters has the story at the Christian Science Monitor. “Ederique Goudia isn’t the type who stops moving. From November through February, her life was like a hurricane’s gust, tossing her about the country between the community that raised her and the place she now calls home.

“In early November, Ms. Goudia and an entourage of chefs made their way from Detroit to her childhood hometown of Wallace, Louisiana, a community of nearly 600 about 50 miles outside New Orleans that had been pummeled by Hurricane Ida’s Category 4 strength last summer. Her foodways colleagues Raphael Wright and Jermond Booze, among a host of others from their home in Detroit, rallied around her and organized a day of service for the community, followed by their group’s inaugural diaspora dinner. …

“The day after they arrived back in Detroit, Ms. Goudia and company made a beeline back to the kitchen, where they began working alongside colleagues to prepare 50 family-sized Thanksgiving meals for their food-insecure community members. The meals were prepared through the food security group Make Food Not Waste, of which Ms. Goudia is the lead chef. 

“Food relief is about more than physical sustenance for Ms. Goudia and the many chefs who volunteer alongside her. It is a rung on the ladder to stability. And it can be the glue that holds communities together. ‘It creates a shared song amongst people, of a reset,’ says Detroit chef Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, founder of ​​BlackMetroEats and one of the volunteers who traveled to Wallace with Ms. Goudia. …

“After Ida hit southeast Louisiana, [friends from the nonprofit Taste the Diaspora] were among the first to ask how her family fared, and they were well aware that it wasn’t feasible to get to Louisiana to help right away, as disaster recovery dragged on for weeks after the storm. They then suggested hosting local pop-up fundraisers. Before long, they had gathered a group of 15 or so members of the Detroit food community interested in traveling to Wallace. …

“[Ms. Goudia] knows small towns like hers don’t often receive disaster relief quickly while efforts concentrate on metro areas like New Orleans and Baton Rouge first. Wallace sits in the middle of a petrochemical corridor and has long struggled with environmental justice issues.

“Ida made landfall on Aug. 29. As Ms. Goudia checked on her family, the Detroit food scene leaped into action. … In total they raised $8,500 and they distributed it to Wallace residents through the Descendants Project, an advocacy group for descendants of formerly enslaved people in Louisiana’s river parishes. … 

“By the time Ms. Goudia and her colleagues were ready to head to Wallace themselves, word had spread through the Detroit area. Soon sponsorships began rolling in: The Kresge Foundation, which expands opportunities for low-income individuals nationwide, was the first major group to chip in. Then ProsperUS Detroit, an economic development initiative, pitched in. Turning Tables NOLA caught wind of their efforts soon after and offered to help as well. …

“The Detroit food community’s support for Ms. Goudia and her hometown was, in some ways, as emotionally overwhelming as watching Ida hit her family. At the same time, it wasn’t surprising. It’s what Ms. Goudia has come to know as the heart of Detroit.

“ ‘The hospitality that lives in Detroit, it isn’t a one-off,’ says Ms. Goudia. ‘It isn’t surprising at all, because there is this Southern hospitality that’s here, that’s unmatched.’

“On the day of the Wallace dinner, as always, Ms. Goudia didn’t stop moving. She and her volunteers worked through the afternoon to prepare an evening meal of a beet-based African dish, mirliton dressing, baked spaghetti, cornbread tea cakes, and pralines.

“As he leaned against a picnic table out front, opening cans of corn, Mr. Osei-Bonsu of BlackMetroEats reflected on his and others’ trip down South so far, and what he hoped the meal would mean for the community.

“Healing a community’s emotional wounds through food ‘is definitely something that’s impactful,’ Mr. Osei-Bonsu says. ‘Today will be about so much more than just the consumption of food. It’ll also be a dialogue.’ …

“Ms. Goudia says from her home in Detroit several weeks later [that the point is] to use ‘food in a way that breathes life into people, that gives them what they didn’t think they needed at the time.’ She stops and reflects for a moment. ‘I think we were successful in that. … Everybody that came on the trip is now family. Not only with me, but with the residents of Wallace. I was blessed to be able to provide that for them.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, Detroit-based chef and founder of BlackMetroEats, sets the table for a 100-person Taste the Diaspora community dinner in Wallace, Louisiana, Nov. 21, 2021.

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Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize.
Founder of RISE St. James and 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Sharon Lavigne speaks at the first annual African American Celebration at the grave site of enslaved ancestors at the Buena Vista Cemetery. The land was purchased by Formosa Plastics for a proposed petrochemical complex.

Ever since textile artist Jamie Bourgeois did a fabric-dying experiment with the polluted waters around Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, I’ve been supporting the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Rise St. James — grassroots nonprofits fighting back against industries like Formosa Plastics.

So I was delighted to see that radio show Living on Earth interviewed a leader of that fight.

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, the communities of the Louisiana region known as ‘Cancer Alley’ were left to deal with destroyed homes, no electricity, and polluted water. That’s on top of the toxic air they breathe every day because of industrial pollution, and Black residents have been fighting for environmental justice there for decades.

“Sharon Lavigne is the founder of RISE St. James and a 2021 Goldman Prize recipient for her work in organizing against a massive Formosa plastics plant, and she joins Host Steve Curwood to discuss the hurricane’s impacts and the health effects of industrial pollution in her community.

“STEVE CURWOOD: The climate emergency is in a downward spiral, as President Joe Biden recently observed when he visited areas hit hard by Hurricane Ida and its aftermath. …

“The poor and disadvantaged are especially hard hit from big cities to places like former farmland along the Mississippi. This 85 mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is called Cancer Alley, and it’s the site of some of 150 petrochemical plants, a notorious source of toxic chemicals for locals on a normal day. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida many plants released even more pollutants than average as they dealt with high winds, high water and as much as 15 inches of rain.

“Many residents of this region are low income, descendants of the Black slaves who once toiled on the vast sugar plantations of the lower Mississippi. … Sharon Lavigne lives on land bought by her grandfather in St James Parish. She retired as a special education teacher to devote herself full time to advocacy as founder of RISE Saint James, an environmental justice group working to stop even more toxic industrial development in cancer alley. Her organization and others sued Formosa, a Taiwanese company that wants to build an ethane cracking plant nearby. That prompted the Army Corps of Engineers and the courts to require an updated environmental impact statement of the facility and earned Sharon the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize for North America. …

“SHARON LAVIGNE: I live on the west bank of the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, and Hurricane Ida, it just, it has so much destruction. So many homes have their roof off. Some of the homes are totally demolished. And when it came, it stayed here while it didn’t move fast like it normally moves like hurricanes normally move. So this one was the worst I have ever experienced. …

“In the master bedroom, over half a room, the insulation, and the sheet rock is all on the beat, the carpet is wet. Everything is, I hope, I hope I can salvage the furniture, because that was my mother’s bedroom set. And I hope I can save it but we have to get all the stuff all insulation and sheet rock off of it first, to see how much we can save. … We don’t have electricity right now. We don’t have anything. …

“CURWOOD: Sharon, I understand you’re the founder of RISE St. James. That’s its a grassroots environmental organization. You mobilized against this $12.5 billion plastics manufacturing plant. Now what kinds of toxic pollutants [went] into release? What were the chemicals involved?

“LAVIGNE: Benzene. Benzene is one, and that’s cancer causing. Formaldehyde. There’s a whole bunch of chemicals, a whole lot of greenhouse gases that they’re going to release in the air and into the water. … Even though we have twelve refineries and industries in the fifth district where I live. They don’t care. They want to add some more to us. So once they add this industry to us, we’re not going to be able to live. It’s going to be too much in the air for us to breathe and live. We are having trouble breathing. Now we have people with asthma. We have people with all all types of respiratory illnesses. We have people with cancer all up and down this river. …

“And our governor approved this industry. Our parish officials approved this industry and they live here in St. James. That’s the part that hurt me, because they live here with us. … I don’t care if I don’t have any money. I’m going to fight for my community. And this is where I’ve been all my life. And this is where I want to stay. …

“CURWOOD: What about the location of this plant? …

“LAVIGNE: This plant would be two miles from my home. It would be one mile from a church and a school, public school. And that’s when I said no more. … I didn’t know how many we had, to be honest with you, until I went to a community meeting. And when I went to that meeting, I found out so many things that were going on, and all the chemicals and the people that were sick. One lady was on oxygen and she had cancer. … I said, I asked them, ‘Why don’t we fight from Formosa?’

“And they said, ‘Oh, the governor approved that. And they said the parish council is gonna approve it too and once they approve it, it’s a done deal. There is nothing you could do about it.’ And I told them, ‘We need to do something about it because we have too many. And they said, ‘Oh, Sharon, you are wasting your time. You can’t fight industry.’ …

“I prayed and I asked God what I should do. And he told me to fight. So that’s when I started to fight. I didn’t know what to do to fight. I didn’t know how to do this, this type of thing because I was never involved in involved in environmental issues, I was never involved in anything in the parish. We formed RISE St. James in October of 2018. Then we started meeting other organizations in New Orleans and different places, in that we formed a coalition and we called it Coalition against Death Alley. …

“The governor came down here in 2019, November 1st. … When somebody came to me, and asked me if I will speak to the governor, I said, ‘Sure, I sure would.’

“I said, ‘Governor, I would like you to stop Formosa. Don’t let it come into our neighborhood.’ And this is what he answered me: ‘I’m going to do a health study.’ … I was so hurt. I was so let down because he just threw it off like it was nothing.”

Then the community filed lawsuits. Read more at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Russell Ledet
Russell Ledet in his job as a security guard at Baton Rouge General Medical Center in 2010 and as a medical student there in 2020.

As readers know from my post on Shagufa Habibi, I am one of a group of people who believe in this young Afghan immigrant and her dream to end child marriages, first by gaining relevant skills. It doesn’t matter that the dream seems impossibly big. After all, when people believe in you, big things do happen. Young Greta Thunberg may not have ended global warming, but you know she won’t stop until there are serious changes.

Today’s story is about a young man from a poor family in Lake Charles, Louisiana, who had people who believed in him.

As Kellie B. Gormly wrote at the Washington Post, “Russell J. Ledet spent four years patrolling the doctors’ parking lot at Baton Rouge General Medical Center, where, as a security guard, he watched people in white coats come and go from the building. He fantasized about what his life could be.

“In a moment of bravery one day, Ledet was walking with a doctor and asked: ‘Hey, do you think I could shadow you?’ To Ledet’s surprise, the doctor, a surgical resident, replied: ‘Yeah, why not?’ Ledet recalled.

“Whenever Ledet had free time over the next several months, he was in the operating room and visiting patients with Patrick Greiffenstein.

“ ‘It just so happened, God put me in the right place at the right time, and it worked,’ said Ledet, 34, of Gretna, La.

“Now, seven years after he was a security guard at Baton Rouge General Medical Center, Ledet is assigned to the hospital as a medical student. He is doing his pediatrics rotation at the Louisiana hospital and is in his third year at Tulane University School of Medicine. …

“He sometimes runs into people he used to work with when he was a guard. Once when he was recently in the emergency room, one of them yelled out: ‘You did it! You actually did it!’

“Ledet grew up in Lake Charles, La., with a single mother who worked as a certified nursing assistant. They relied on food stamps to eat. After high school, Ledet joined the Navy and was stationed in Washington, D.C., from 2004 to 2007. He entered the Reserves, and his wife — Mallory Alice Brown-Ledet, whom he met in high school — persuaded him to go to college while she worked at a bank. They moved back to Louisiana in 2009, and Ledet enrolled in Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge.

“Ledet initially thought he would become a social worker, like the ones who had helped his family when he was a child. But one day, his chemistry professor told him that based on his performance in class, he should major in biology or chemistry. Ledet took on both sciences as a double major. That same year, he started the security-guard job to help support his family — which included a new baby, Maleah. …

“The doctor whom Ledet shadowed 10 years ago — now is a trauma surgeon at University Medical Center in New Orleans. … ‘It’s hard not to like him right away,’ said Greiffenstein, explaining why, in part, he said yes when Ledet asked to shadow him. He said Ledet’s path to becoming a doctor has been ‘remarkable.’

“Ledet graduated from college in 2013 and … moved east with his family to attend New York University, where he earned a PhD in molecular oncology in 2018. … His research on prostate cancer earned recognition, but Ledet fondly recalled his shadowing days in Baton Rouge and felt called to the clinical, hands-on work of a physician. …

“About an hour after his second daughter, Mahlina, was born, Ledet got an email from Tulane University in New Orleans: a full scholarship to medical school. …

“Over the summer, Ledet started his third-year rotations, after indicating his location preference for Baton Rouge General Medical Center. He was thrilled when he got it. …

“He plans to open a clinic in New Orleans offering mental health services for marginalized communities. And to be a better business owner, Ledet managed to squeeze in one more project: He is working on an MBA while in medical school. …

“ ‘I’m just grateful, man,’ he said. ‘I’m grateful I made it here. I’m grateful that I didn’t give up. I’m grateful that people believed in me.’ ”

Read more here.

There are just some people who if they say they are going to do a thing, then you know it’s going to happen.

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The Swinomish community in Washington State has seen the future in rising waters. Much of the tribe’s 15-square-mile reservation is at or near sea level.

Today I have a story about how recognizing climate change can put a community one step ahead of the game. Indigenous people around the country are taking steps to deal with the inevitable before it’s too late.

Terri Hansen writes at Yes! magazine, “Chief Albert Naquin was astounded when emergency officials warned him in September 2005 that a second hurricane would soon hammer the southern Louisiana bayous where Hurricane Katrina had struck less than a month earlier. The leader of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, Naquin took to the Isle de Jean Charles’ lone road to urge residents who had returned home after Katrina to leave their listing, moldy homes once again. …

“Hurricane Rita flooded the island for weeks, adding insult to injury that had already reduced the tribe’s homeland to a sliver of what it once was. Rising sea levels, hurricanes, erosion from oil production, and subsidence have since shriveled the Isle de Jean Charles peninsula from 15,000 acres to a tiny strip a quarter-mile wide by a half-mile long. There were once 63 houses flanking the town’s single street. Now only 25 homes and a couple fishing camps remain. …

“In January, Louisiana received a $48 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to move the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw and Houma Nation tribal members to more solid ground and reestablish their communities, making tribal members the first climate change refugees in the United States. …

“Across the country, 24 tribes have responded to climate change with plans for adaptation and mitigation, and more are in development. …

“As rising temperatures cause heatwaves, droughts, floods, wildfires, and increase the severity of weather events, tribes are on the forefront in respect to both degree of impact and in initial efforts to respond to adaptation, said Ed Knight, director of planning and community development for the Swinomish tribe in Washington state. …

“Using a unique model based on an indigenous worldview, the tribe updated its adaptation strategy in 2014 with environmental, cultural, and human health impact data. It now views health on a familial and community scale, and includes the natural environment and the spiritual realm, said Jamie Donatuto, Swinomish community and environmental health analyst.”

Will government support for tribes’ efforts continue? Read more here.

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There can be unexpected ramifications to keeping cats, as art forgers described in Science magazine discovered to their regret.

In an article on how experts check the authenticity of a putative Velázquez or a painting found along with mummies, Lizzie Wade writes, Investigations into the artist responsible for more modern works often have a specific goal: To figure out if the work in question is a forgery.

“Bonnie Magness-Gardine manages the Art Theft Program at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C. For many years, she and other investigators had seen innumerable forgeries of the work of Clementine Hunter, a self-taught and incredibly prolific African-American painter from Louisiana.

“Many people tried to copy her distinctive folk-art style, but only two regularly succeeded: William Toye and his wife Beryl Ann Toye, a couple from New Orleans. They were so good at imitating Hunter’s style that ‘they got away with this for years,’ Magness-Gardine says.

“In 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation finally gathered enough evidence to confiscate the Toyes’ supposed Hunter collection, and during the raid they noticed that ‘they lived in a very modest house with approximately 30 cats,’ Magness-Gardine says.

“When forensic investigators analyzed the seized works, they found cat hair embedded in the paint — a characteristic not shared by Hunter’s authentic work. ‘That’s essentially what brought them down,’ Magness-Gardine says. William Toye pled guilty to art fraud in 2011.”

More here.

Art: Clementine Hunter/ Bridgeman Images
Picking Cotton, 1950s (oil on board), Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund. Hunter is a favorite of would-be forgers.

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Saw an amazing photography show this morning. Lori Waselchuk chronicles a program at a maximum security prison. The exhibit flyer says, “A life sentence in Louisiana means life. More than 85% of the 5,100 inmates imprisoned at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola are expected to die there. Until the hospice program was created in 1998, most prisoners died alone.”

The inmates who work in the hospice program are pictured caring for others and keeping a 24-hour watch when someone is near death. They “go to great lengths to ensure that their fellow inmate does not die alone.”

I don’t want to be a pollyanna about this (I can see that some patients are still so susceptible to violent outbursts that volunteers may visit them only by speaking through a small window), but I am interested that many of the hospice workers discover a new side of themselves. George Brown, 49, says, “The most important thing I have learned as a hospice volunteer is that I have a heart and it has feelings.” Sometimes the guards find a new attitude in themselves, too. The flyer adds that the show, Grace Before Dying, “reflects how grace offers hope that our lives need not be defined by our worst acts.” Read about it here.

I have heard about one or two similar prison programs. Here is a piece about the Yoga Prison Project , started at San Quentin in California. And here is a movie about a prison meditation project called Dhamma Brothers.

My second cousin Alex was so energized by teaching meditation in a Boston prison that she is now entering a graduate program to gain more skills.

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