The People of Iberville series at Iberville Museum in Plaquemine has been around for about five years and six exhibits, each of which has highlighted a different ethnic group that contributed to the development of Iberville Parish. It’s Rita Lynne Jackson’s passion. Jackson is the project director for the series.
“We began that series because we were trying to figure out a way to get people into the museum. I guess because I am a genealogist, I thought of getting people to present their own history through their genealogy and the artifacts that they would have at home. So they came in, and they did little mini-exhibits on each of their families. We started with the Italians. There’s a (display) wall of different nationalities — we did the Spanish second, then we did the African Americans, then we did the Germans, we did the Scotch Irish and English. We did the French,” Jackson said.
Each group took part in their particular exhibit, bringing in artifacts, photos and family information then joining in the opening of the exhibit.
“When we did the Italian exhibit, we invited an Italian priest to come and open it and people of Italian descent to come and talk.”
Now comes the seventh exhibit in the series: The American Indians of Iberville.
“It was harder to find those people (Indians). The other groups were more or less readily available. The French, this is French country,” Jackson said.
Even though the Indian exhibit “chronologically should have come first. But that’s just not how we did it,” Jackson said. “They’re last but they’re certainly not least. They were here 12,000 years before any of us.”
She wanted some of them around for the exhibit too. It was just a question of finding them.
“It was a dream of the mayor, Tony Gullota, a man that we used to call ‘Big Chief’ Jim Evans, who passed away several years ago, and the head of our American Legion presently, ‘Big Chief’ Jim Barbee — he is of the Four Winds tribe — and they had a little tête-à-tête, dreaming, I guess you’d say, about having a powwow here in Plaquemine. When it came time for me to think and pray about this exhibit, I thought, ‘if only we could have a powwow,’” Jackson said. “So I talked to the mayor, and when I talked to the mayor, he was all excited about it. So I said ‘let’s do it.’”
So she did. The Plaquemine Pow Wow will be held in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit Saturday and Sunday, April 6 and 7, at the Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park, 57845 Foundry St. in Plaquemine, just across the street from the museum.
“This time, it’s going to be so awesome. American Indians are going to be here to open their exhibit. That just blows my mind,” Jackson said.
It’s all free to the public as well. There will be food, fun, arts and crafts and plenty of dancing, competitive dancing.
“Every dance they do and everything they wear has been passed down from generation to generation,” Jackson said. “They come together to celebrate the beginning of the season or the ending of a season and they thank the Great Spirit for the blessings he allows them for their crops and everything then they ask him for a good season to come.”
Display cases in the Exchange Room will house the exhibit, which comprises many artifacts collected locally as well as handmade items, documents and photographs on loan from the United Houma Nation.
One case contains items collected by parish resident Camille Landry.
“Camille Landry, as a 12-year-old, became interested in this. He lived in Bayou Goula. That was before the Corps of Engineers came along and put down those mats to preserve the levee. This little boy would walk out from his father’s plantation and go to the river bank at the Bayou Goula site. He said that when the ships would pass, there’d be a big drop (in water level) and he would run and forage things. He has everything from the first metal tools that the Indians traded (for) with the Europeans in the early 1700s to arrowheads that date back to the 16th century. He went to LSU and had all this stuff evaluated. There’s a multipurpose tool that the Indians used to work in whatever they were doing. There’s a grinding stone. There’s a musket ball. There are just numerous items in that case that have to do with the Bayou Goula site. We are extremely fortunate in that he would lend us these things,” Jackson said.
“The Chitimacha actually had more of the parish than other tribes. The main tribes in Iberville Parish were the Chitimacha, the Houma and the Bayou Goula,” Jackson said.
The entire museum will be open for the powwow event. The graceful, columned, white-painted, brick building was built in 1848 as a courthouse and later housed city utilities. Now its rooms house exhibits on the history of Iberville Parish that feature local artifacts and items about parish residents’ roles in wars, industries like cypress cutting, moss-gathering and oil and gas production, and more. There’s even a Mardi Gras room.
In addition to the opening ceremonies and powwow, Kimberly Walden, cultural director of the Chitimacha Tribe of Charenton will be on hand with film, demonstrations and a scholarly talk about the Chitimachas on Saturday, May 11.
Sponsors of the powwow and exhibit are Dow USA, Plaquemine Division; Axiall (Georgia Gulf) Plaquemine Division; and SNF Flopam, Plaquemine Division.
The exhibit was assisted by the Iberville Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Jackson is a member of the DAR and other members, including Stella Tanoos and Sue Blanchard have worked on the exhibit.