In my way of thinking, commerce and culture don’t usually caught my attention. It was a headline with the word, “Indian” that nabbed me. Whether it’s our eastern Indian brethren or some of our tribal people, the very mention always draws me in.

I was rewarded with a piece centered on the discovery of Indian relics along the same shores where the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill occurred in Louisiana. As I read it, I got the idea that I should consider the old maxim that good things can come from bad things. 

Since I think silver linings on clouds only mean rain, I swiftly nixed that notion.  So I placed myself mentally on the Caminada Headland (the site of the story). I spent almost two years on the Louisiana/Texas coast as a child, so picturing me back on that sand bar was easy. With my cell phone in hand, I could almost feel wet, packed sand under my heels and the bath-like quality the Gulf takes on at the height of summer.

It seems after the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon exploded, platoons of archeologists were dispatched by British Petroleum (BP) to take stock of the clean-up.  You know, make sure there weren’t any rogue relics mixed in with the ubiquitous tar balls. They hit pay dirt. Oh, the ironies of Fate--that a man-made company could court archeological capital.

Untouched and unpolluted, the Caminada Headland would have been rich in resources and an agreeable climate even back in the day for the mysterious Gulf Coast mound people.  Then, deer antlers were used as spear heads and gar fish scales used as darts. Other finds are pottery shards and artifacts dating back to 700 A.D.  Scientists feverishly declare that these villages were complex societies of many families. I’m convinced they knew a thing or two about insect control as well.

My pulse picked up on hearing about these discoveries dotting Louisiana’s coast. But this kind of happenstance discovery is all too commonplace. Remains of native people are still tapping us on the shoulder at construction sites and national park areas regularly. When laid bare, we turn to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to safe guard remains.

Some might argue that the federal law is toothless and provides no real authority over entities that violate its tenets.  Still experts tell me that NAGPRA is an effective, if a rather boggy statute with identification, notification and repatriation issues that more often than not get snarled in red tape. Then there are those who see the law as, “better than nothing.”  

Ultimately, it is like a cosmic insurance policy that salvages human dignity while serving as a footnote that this continent belonged to native forebears at one time. In another irony, BP is beholden to preserve artifacts but the provisions to force companies to safeguard archaeological sites are sketchy.

Today, Louisiana is home to four federally-recognized Indian tribes, the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana; Jena Band of Choctaw Indians; Coushatta of Louisiana and the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. But it is the Chitimacha Tribe (pop. 950) that has historical links to the ancient village sites, I read.  And it is according to their directions the remains are reburied.

In a plot as clever as parody, while the oil company (BP) was mucking through the muck and wildlife was rolling over like waves, nearly forgotten tribal folks and artifacts washed up on the shore like the calling card of the elders themselves.

I stand by my philosophy that business and ethnology don’t usually interact well.  One tends to talk too much about themselves while the other doesn’t say enough.  There are those rare occasions, (think Indian casino) where material culture mixes splendidly with material enterprise. Other times, the two can go out on a blind date and hit it off. The Caminada Headland is living proof.