Published on October 25, 2012 by Amy
The Atakapa-Ishak (uh-TAK-uh-paw – ee-SHAK), are a Southwest Louisiana/Southeast Texas tribe of ancient Indians who lived in the Gulf of Mexico’s northwestern crescent and called ourselves Ishak. The name means The People.
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In prehistoric times we Ishak divided into two populations known to this day as, “The Sunrise People” and “The Sunset People”. Some Ishak lived on the south coast of what is now Texas, down to Matagorda Bay. Other Ishak lived on the upper coast of the Gulf’s northwestern crescent at what is now Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. In Louisiana, on the coast, we spread all the way to what is now Vermilion Bay. The former Ishak, those on the lower coast, inhabited the land to perhaps a distance of a week’s walk. Those on the upper coast inhabited the land to perhaps a distance of several weeks’ walk.
We were called Atakapa by the Choctaw. The name was used by the Spaniards and French colonizers in Louisiana, as a slur word to refer to the Ishak people. This gave us a reputation and rumor of being “man eaters”, which continues through today. We, the descendents of the Atakapa-Ishak Indians exist unrecognized and misnamed under various names of choice like Creoles, Creole Indians, and Creoles of Color. The term “colored” has clouded our racial identity. Atakapa-Ishak descendents show a wide range of complexions which is attributed to the genes for light or brown complexions. Many Atakapa-Ishak no longer know their correct racial identity.
Our heritage is rich and diversified and one of which to be proud. There is much in our lives today that points to our prehistoric ancestors. Tasso and oyster pie were food products of their inventing. Zydeco, the good time dance is their gift to our country. Relics of Atakapa-Ishak names include Anacoco, Calcasieu, Carencro, Lacassine, Mamou, Mermentau, Opelousas, Teche and others. The most beautiful and pleasing, is our native language, which has been translated into the English grammar for the Christmas Carol Silent Night, Holy Night and other works by linguist, Hugh Singleton.
The naming of U. S. Highway 190 between the Sabine River and DeRidder, LA, as the Atakapa-Coushatta Trace is attributed to the fact that Atakapa Indians inhabited and traversed Beauregard Parish. The placement of the historical marker you see at the top of this page is credited to Ms. Velmer Smith, an honored and long time supporter of our people. It is located adjacent to Highways 190 and 111 at the junction. It is more clearly defined as part of the Atakapa foot trails in the Atakapas’ homeland that reached as far up as parts of present-day Natchitoches, Rapides, and Sabine Parishes and parishes lying along all the S.E. Texas and S.W. Louisiana coast. The Atakapa-Ishak have been identified as the only tribe, consisting of six bands to inhabit all of Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas for centuries prior to habitation by Europeans.
The aborginal Atakapa Ishak of Louisiana were a quiet, peaceful, meek, even passive people, yet we have served this nation in all its wars. Though neglected and unschooled from 1690′s to early 1900′s, we have proven ourselves highly intelligent, of accomplished talents, industrious and self-sustaining. Numbers of us have become professionals and individuals serving our country in positions of honor, such as President Carter’s Ambassador to Kenya and the Seychelles, Dr. Wilbert LeMelle of New Iberia, LA and Alex Boudreaux of Lake Charles, who served as a Tuskogee Airman during WW II.
The Atakapa-Ishak are not extinct, as some historians once thought, and our people have been honored in many ways. The USS Atakapa (ATF-149) was an Abnaki-class of fleet ocean tug that was named after our tribe.
The Atakapa-Ishak of today are working diligently on bringing the divided populations of Sunrise and Sunset people together as one unified nation. Through the efforts of Chief Michael Amos, council members and others of the tribe, much progress has been made. We are on the federal registry as of February 2007 for Federal Recognition of the tribe. We have obtained our 501(c)3 nonprofit status and informed our young people of tuition assistance for college educations. A few have applied already.
We welcome support from anyone to help us on this long journey. It is our goal to be recognized as the historical tribe of southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas, in order for us to stand proud as the Atakapa-Ishak Nation, throughout the U.S.