Attakapas Tribe highlights importance of Native Americans in Acadiana’s history

Posted at 7:24 PM, Jul 28, 2018

The Attakapas Tribe is celebrating their heritage by inviting tribes from all over the country to take part in their 5th annual festival. 

The Three Moons Attakapas Opelousas Prairie Tribe Festival was held in Opelousas on Saturday. 

It’s something organizers say wasn’t possible years ago before the 1960s.

"Attakapas history goes way back, way back," said Attakapas Opelousas Prairie Tribe Chief Nolan Gobert.

The Attakapas Opelousas Prairie Tribe had an intricate system of villages and trading posts throughout Acadiana well before European settlers arrived. 

In fact, the city of Opelousas was named after Native Americans. 

However, for most of the 20th century, Native American history was suppressed in south Louisiana. 

"When I was coming up, it was forbidden to say that you were native. 1960, that was when you could really come out and say a little bit," explained Chief Gobert. 

Now, the Attakapas Tribe is experiencing a revival. 

Their annual festival is growing in popularity and is being attended by tribal members from as far away as the Blackfeet Nation in the American Northwest. 

"I encouraged my husband to help me look for my identity, which is here. My parents are from here, but my father was in the military, and when he was killed in Korea, we ended up in Tacoma, Washington. But, by meeting him, marrying him, living Blackfeet, I encouraged my husband to help find my tribe, which is Attakapas Opelousas Prairie Tribe," explained Carolyn Gray Whitford.

Her husband, Harvey Whitford, is from the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Montana. 

Both have been on the Powwow Trail across the United States for 35 years.

Harvey is headman for the festival dancers and ceremonies. 

Carolyn was able to trace her Attakapas lineage through Catholic diocese baptism records. 

Native Americans from across Louisiana attended the festival as well, such as Charles Cook, who grew up near Rayne. 

"My grandfather was a medicine man, and I grew up without a tribe," explained Cook. 

Though Cook doesn’t identify with a particular tribe, both parents had links to the Attakapas, and his grandfather was a spiritual leader in the tribe. 

It’s a legacy he’s carrying on. 

"I’m here to find those that are similar to me, you know, the medicine men, the spiritual men. That’s the man I’m looking for," said Cook.

The festival is important for everyone who attends regardless of whether they’re Attakapas or have no Native American lineage because it encourages the legacy of a people who have been here for a very long time and will continue to be here into the future.

"Today, it’s a wonderful day to be free, to be able to talk about it, to celebrate it. It’s a wonderful feeling," said Chief Gobert.