Louisianian at Large

New tribal center is home to treasures
The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana is preparing to cast a long shadow into its future. Opening in 2009 is a Cultural and Educational Resources Center that promises not only to house the tribe’s hard- fought-for recovered treasures but also provide educational opportunities for the general public as well upcoming generations of tribal members.

The 40,000-square-foot center will accommodate:

  • a museum from which art exhibits will be designed and nationally toured
  • a library for researching tribal history
  • an auditorium for presentations of various lecture series
  • meeting rooms, classrooms and a distance-learning center.

“This project has been about seven years in the works,” says tribal council member Earl Barbry Jr., director of the project. “We are slowly getting a feel for what is going to go in those walls, and the excitement is growing.”

For more than two centuries, Tunica and Biloxi Indians have lived near Marksville. It was in 1974 that the Tunica-Biloxi tribe began legal action to regain possession of grave goods taken from the burial grounds of a long-gone village of Tunica Indians located on Trudeau Plantation, near the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

According to court records, a former Angola corrections officer, Leonard Charrier, who described himself as an amateur archeologist, dug up the artifacts during a three-year period beginning in 1968. Excavated were approximately 150 burial sites. Charrier later leased the artifacts to the Peabody Museum of Harvard University.

In order to sell the artifacts, Charrier first needed clean titles to the objects. He filed suit, claiming ownership under the Louisiana law of abandoned property.
The state, after learning of the existence of the cache, intervened by locating the  heirs of Trudeau Plantation, who in 1978 sold the property and all titles to the artifacts to the state.

The Peabody Museum then gave the artifacts to the state, which kept them at the Cabildo in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, the Tunica-Biloxi tribe, aware of the title dispute, renewed its petition with the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior for legal recognition as an American Indian Tribe. The tribe needed the standing to claim ownership of the artifacts.

The Tunica-Biloxi tribe had been seeking federal recognition since the 1930s.
In 1981 the U.S. Congress formally declared the Tunica-Biloxi reservation to be a sovereign nation, opening the door for the tribe to claim the treasures, this time in federal court.

That case later provided the groundwork for the enactment of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires all artifacts held by museums and state and federal agencies, if identifiable to a tribe, be returned to that tribe.

In the end, the Tunica-Biloxi people received more than 2 tons of artifacts unearthed from Trudeau Plantation, the world’s largest collection from the Mississippi Valley’s Colonial Period.

It will be those artifacts people will see when visiting the new Cultural and Educational Resources Center and those artifacts on which aspiring conservators will work through internship programs sponsored by the Tunica-Biloxi tribe, Barbry said.

According to the 2000 Census, the Tunica-Biloxi reservation has a land area of 416 acres and a resident population of 89 people. Along with raising cattle, the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe owns and operates Paragon Casino Resort, Louisiana’s first land-based casino. That casino now employs 1,780 people and is a major player in community development and support.

Construction and initial operation of the Cultural and Educational Resources Center will cost $13 million, funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan and two Louisiana Community Development Block Grants, Barbry says. “But this is only the beginning,” he adds.

The intent is to host college-level courses in partnership with Louisiana universities so tribal members, casino and resort workers and area residents all have access to higher educational pursuits, Barbry says.

The new center stands as actuation of the tribe’s motto: “Cherishing our past … Building for our future.”

It is under the leadership of Barbry’s father, Tribal Chairman and Tribal Administrator Earl Barbry Sr., that the Tunica-Biloxi tribe is realizing this latest dream. It is also under the leadership of Barbry Sr., who has held the position since 1978, that the tribe has seen growth in landholdings; the construction of new housing, health care and social service offices; and the creation of a tribal police force, tribal court system and tribal-operated gaming board and gaming commission.

Procedure to cure equine blindness performed at LSU vet school
Because of a desire to save the sight of one horse, a surgical procedure used successfully for nearly 10 years in Germany is now available as an alternative treatment for equine moon blindness.

Dr. Eric Storey, an equine ophthalmologist with the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, learned the surgery in 2006 from Dr. Hartmut Gerhards of the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich.

Gerhards was brought to the LSU school to perform a vitrectomy on a then-13-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare named Lexius. The horse, co-owned by equestrian enthusiasts Julie Calzone and Bob Gardes of Lafayette, was found to have Equine Recurrent Uveitis, a common inflammatory condition of the eye, also known as moon blindness.

Storey says the traditional treatment for ERU is the topical application of steroids to the eye. This works to control the inflammation but does not address the presence of the bacteria that is causing the problem, he says. “With each episode of the disease, further damage to the eye results.”

A vitrectomy, which is what was performed on Lexius, is the extraction of the majority of the eye’s clear internal gel, where the bacteria resides.
Evidence of improvement in a large percentage of horses supports the view that the surgery is a cure for ERU in many cases, but it must be noted that we are still unsure of the role of the bacteria in ERU, Storey says.

After Lexius’ diagnosis of ERU, Calzone suggested to Gardes that they bring the horse to LSU’s veterinary school.

“We knew it was a very difficult disease to manage and that most horses are euthanized,” she says.

Calzone says when she asked about alternative treatments, Storey told them of the work performed by Gerhards in Germany.

“We flew Dr. Gerhards and an assistant in to do the surgery at LSU with Dr. Storey,” Calzone says.

Also purchased by Calzone and Gardes was specialized equipment developed by Gerhards so the university could not only perform the surgery on Lexius but also would have the means of helping other horses this side of the Atlantic.

Calzone says she believes that the LSU veterinary hospital is the first in the United States to offer and successfully perform the operation.

As for Lexi, as the horse is familiarly called, “she’s cured,” Calzone says. “Bob put her back to work doing dressage for awhile, and now she is being used as a brood horse. She can do anything.”

Following the surgery, Calzone and Gardes began a fund for assistance with further research into the causes of ERU. The fund also provides financial assistance to other horse owners with the $2,000 to $2,500 cost for a vitrectomy.

Not all horses are suitable candidates for a vitrectomy, though, Storey warns. “It is most useful early in the disease.”

Unfortunately, horses are unable to tell us when their vision begins to become blurry, so it is important to have a horse’s eyes checked regularly, Storey says.
To contribute to the Lexi Fund, contact Ky Mortensen at (225) 578-9590.