Ceremonial site, burial ground, midden, gateway, lighthouse, high ground: there are countless theories and explanations for the purpose of mounds, earthen structures built by native peoples of the United States. Mounds hold more than just fragments of ancient life, they can teach us how ancient peoples settled, inhabited, and adapted to a rapidly evolving landscape. For the Native American descendants of tribes that inhabited the delta, these spaces also are spiritual centers. Hundreds of these ancient sites dot Louisiana’s coastline, and yet with rising sea levels, Louisiana is at risk of losing more and more mounds each year, and the wisdom they possess. But cultural heritage is not a renewable resource.
Bayou Grand Caillou is one such mound at risk. A giant mound on private property in Dulac, Louisiana, the mound at Bayou Grand Caillou is part of a rapidly changing ecosystem that is at risk of being washed away. Today, this mound sits on property owned by several local lawyers and developers, not by the United Houma Nation or the local Dulac community. Carla Solet, a member of the Houma and a Dulac local who lives next door to this mound, wants the mound protected from coastal land loss, but she also wants (legal) access to this sacred space. For now, Carla and her family visit the site without permission, collecting palms to make baskets and spending time on land that holds deep meaning to their identity. We follow the Solet family as they explore the meaning of the mounds in terms of their cultural heritage and reclaim the mound in a clandestine flag-planting ceremony.
Mounds were gathering sites for ancient peoples, a place to share knowledge and stories, and today they are a symbol for something that is in danger of being lost, both literally and figuratively, as Louisiana’s coast continues to dissolve. As land disappears coastal communities rich in culture lose spaces and rituals, opportunities for people to come together, share and collect stories and artifacts to honor the land and its people’s history.
KEEPERS OF THE MOUND was created with direct support from the Foundation from Louisiana and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Water/Ways program. Directed by Katie Mathews, Camera by Justin Zweifach, Sound by Lukas Gonzales, Edit Paavo Hanninen. Executive Producer Darcy McKinnon, Producer for LEH John Richie, for LEH Brian Boyles.