Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Effects Indigenous Tribes in Grand Bayou, LA

Written by Natalie, SFSU, 2017

Indigenous communities, like the Atakapa-Ishak tribe, living in the Grand Bayou have been forced off their native land because of man-made environmental destruction over the last 50 years. The tipping point came in 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill  turned the Grand Bayou into a sacrifice zone. 

Deepwater Horizon oil unit on fire in the Gulf of Mexico

Atakapa-Ishak Tribe

The Atakapa-Ishak tribe is located on the wetlands south of New Orleans, Louisiana and can only be accessed by boat, they are an Indigenous tribe in the Grand Bayou and have been surviving off the land for centuries[1]. Native people call this land paradise; the Bayou provides transportation, sustenance and recreation while the forests give the tribe game to hunt and safer grounds during natural disaster[2]. Most importantly for these communities water is their identity but it has slowly been taken from them as towns became cities further up the coast[3]. As the nearby towns started to grow, canals were raised along the river to protect cities and promote further development[4]. The local government also allowed for canals to be dredged for the exploration of gas and oil[5]. Since the 1930s there has been a 60% reduction in the coastal wetlands and it is estimated that man-made canals are primarily responsible[6]. The Atakapa- Ishak community is accustomed to destruction from hurricanes but the degradation of the land because of man-made structures has made it extremely difficult for native communities to continue to thrive[7].

Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

In 2010 real tragedy hit the Grand Bayou when the British Petroleum oil rig off the Gulf of Mexico started to spill and contaminate the water. The oil rig explosion in resulted in: 

  • The largest oil spill in the the history of marine drilling operations allowing 4 million barrels of oil to flow into the Gulf of Mexico [8]
  • A $60 billion penalty for the BP corporation [9]
  • Oil contamination of 1,300 miles of the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline [10]

BP has been charged billions in damages and penalties but the Atakapa-Ishak tribe will most likely never receive any of the money [11]

. The community is fighting to get back what they lost but it is a uphill battle they may never win.

Sacrifice Zone

The reason this site has been, and will continue to be, neglected stems from the prevalence of sacrifice zones in our society. The Grand Bayou region and Atakapa- Ishak community are being sacrificed for the higher purpose of extracting oil. Corporations are given permits to build large oil rigs for the common good of having more fossil fuels to power our lifestyles, despite knowing the the high potential for environmental and life threatening spills. Having fossil fuels seems like a win for the greater good of society but it could be easily argued we could do without oil rigs that put our waters in danger of pollution. After the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico many areas were ruined by oil contamination, waterways were devastated and native marine life was decimated. In the Grand Bayou the story is just the same, the area has been neglected after the 2010 oil spill, and there is nothing that could easily be done to reverse the extensive damage.

Sacrificing Communities

Sacrificing a zone to be destroyed in the interest of the common good also includes the sacrificing of the communities that reside in the area. The Atakapa-Ishak tribe will no longer be able to thrive as a community in their homeland because their native lands were sacrificed to produce oil. Lastly the members of the Atakapa-Ishak tribe were living off the land and did not benefit from the exploration of oil that is now killing their community. 


[1] Burnett, J. (2010). Oil Imperils Native American Town, and Way of Life. Retrieved September 20, 2017 from

[2]  Marshall, B. (2016) Native Americans of Grand Bayou seeking help to remain in homeland. Retrieved September 30, 2017 from

[3] Burnett (2010).

[4] Marshall (2016).

[5] Marshall (2016).

[6] Marshall (2016).

[7] Nienaber, G. (2012) Forgotten Tribe on Grand Bayou LA Slammed by Isaac. Retrieved September 30, 2017 from

[8]EPA. (2017). Deepwater Horizon- BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. Retrieved September 30, 2017 from

[9] Bomey, N. (2016) BP’s Deepwater Horizon costs total $62B. Retrieved October 14 from

[10] Bomey (2016).

[11] Myers, B., Michael, O. (2015) After BP oil spill, Louisiana tribe’s way of life quickly disappearing.  Retrieved October 31 from 


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