With the new French immersion school enacted, what’s next for Pointe-aux-Chênes?
The creation of École Pointe-au-Chien is officially signed right by Governor John Bel Edwards, during a ceremony at the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe building on Friday that marked the end of an ongoing struggle to establish a French immersion school in the community.
The school is expected to begin serving students from the parishes of Terrebonne and Lafourche next year in August for children in kindergarten through fourth grade.
HB 261, which allocated $3 million to the school through the state budget bill and supplementary appropriations, passed after a unanimous vote in the state Senate and House in late May .
After traditional drumming led by the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe and the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indian Band of Jean Charles Island, Edwards made a few remarks to a group of over 40 people present on the importance of this bill.
“I’m very excited because it helps preserve language, culture, heritage, traditions, and it’s about resilience. It’s about surviving and hanging on to what’s most important to all of you,” Edwards said.
The tribe and parents have also officially submitted petitions since 2018 to begin French immersion in the area.
Stakeholders hope that the next step in the process will be to ensure Pointe-au-Chien School is housed in the previously closed Pointe-aux-Chênes Elementary School, according to Will McGrew, CEO of Telelouisiane and Vice President. of Pointe-au-Chien School, a non-profit association created to support public schools.
This campus has been closed since June 2021, after the Terrebonne Parish School Board voted 6 to 3 in April 2021 to close the school due to declining enrollment. The students, who are mostly Native Americans and from the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe, were moved about five miles away to Montegut Elementary School.
A federal lawsuit was filed last June to try to block school officials’ decision to close the campus, alleging a pattern and practice of discrimination against Native American and Cajun children. The case is still being settled and stakeholders are hoping it will be over soon so they can figure out what will happen with the building.
“I understand that both parties have publicly expressed their desire to resolve the matter in recent weeks,” McGrew said. “The École Pointe-au-Chien team is optimistic that all parties will help ensure that this groundbreaking new school can open in August 2023, as reported by HB 261, on the property of Pointe Elementary School. -aux-Chênes closed.
Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, a member of the tribe, said she appreciates the support and recognition from government officials for the issues that concern the community.
“It means a lot because it means you think of us and recognize us. The Louisiana Indians were kind of a forgotten people and so to have that relationship and that recognition is really important and empowering for everybody,” Ferguson-Bohnee said.
At the signing, the parents told the governor they hoped to see the school expand in the future to include even more classes.
The French language has long been an important part of Louisiana’s unique cultural identity, especially for the Cajun and Native American communities of the bayou. The new French immersion program joins many others that already exist across the state, and while there isn’t one in the Pointe-au-Chien area yet, children are already learning French today.
Jaxon Dardar, 11, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, said last year in an interview with the Houma Courier that it was disappointing to see his own school closing in the bayou where he grew up. It was in Pointe-aux-Chênes that he learned French Indian traditions through the elders of the tribes and various workshops.
“I like talking to elders in my community in French,” Dardar said.
State Rep. Tanner Magee (R-Houma), who originally introduced the bill, also thanked those who contributed to the legislation.
“I want to thank all the tribal leaders for always supporting me, and you all know my door is always open,” Magee said. “And finally, I want to thank the governor for signing the bill and supporting the bill. You don’t always get the governor’s support with legislation. But I think that’s the one of those great examples of how we can still work together.