Monuments & Commemoration Working Group

"Speaking to the Mounds" Event Series: October 26th and 28th

Presented by the LSU Ethics Institute with sponsorship from the Departments of African and African American Studies, Geography and Anthropology, and the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture

October 26th: Two Film Screenings & Discussion

5:00 - 7:00 p.m., 143 Coates Hall

"Keepers of the Mounds" (Katie Mathews, 2017)

Louisiana's coast is dotted with hundreds of mounds built by indigenous people hundreds of years ago and now threatened by coastal erosion. The mounds along Bayou Grand Caillou in Terrebonne Parish sit in an endangered marsh on property owned by land developers. In this film, the Chauvin family, members of the United Houma Nation, fight for access to the sacred space, attending public meetings with state officials, imploring the landowner to save the mounds, and seeking to define the meaning of home and cultural heritage amid a rapidly changing landscape. Director Katie Mathews is directing and producing Post Coastal, a series of documentary shorts about coastal land loss in Louisiana, with New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC). She consulted with Tulane University archaeology professor Jayur Mehta for Unleash the Mounds. Prior to her work in film, Katie worked as an anthropologist and ethnographer at global design firm IDEO, where she led qualitative research, using individual stories to inspire new systems in education and the public sector.

"My Louisiana Love" (Sharon Linezo Hong, 2012)

Tracing Monique Verdin's quest to find a place in her Native American community as it reels from decades of environmental degradation. When Monique returns to Southeast Louisiana to reunite with Houma Indian family, she sees that the traditional way of life is threatened by a cycle of man-made environmental crises. Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil leak are just the latest rounds forcing her clan to adapt in new ways. Monique must overcome the loss of her house, her father and her partner, and redefine the meaning of home.


October 28th: Lectures and a Visit to the Campus Mounds

5:00 - 7:00 p.m., 143 Coates Hall

"Mounds, Mysteries, and Indigenous Memories in the Mississippi River Delta" (Monique Verdin)

How old are the mounds in the coastal prairies and wetland territories of the lower Mississippi River Delta? Why were they built? How were they used? Who inhabited them? 

Join Houma Nation artist and storyteller, Monique Verdin, for a conversation that will offer more questions than definite conclusions in order to complicate narratives about Indigenous realities, past, present, and future, in an attempt to translate the record stored in the memories found within the hidden language of the land and waters.

"Mounds through time: Centering places for social change" (Dr. Rebecca Saunders, LSU Geography & Anthropology)

Through time, shapes, sizes, and functions of mound changed; intensity of mound building differed in southern and northern Louisiana cultures because of external influences. Nevertheless, all mounds and the spaces they enclosed were ceremonial centers - axis mundi - that provided a connection between the higher, middle, and lower realms of being. In these spaces, people gathered together for ritual and ceremonies, and dancing and feasting, that tied them to the past, validated the present, and ensured the future.


Monique Verdin is an interdisciplinary storyteller who documents the complex relationship between environment, culture, and climate in southeast Louisiana. She is a citizen of the Houma Nation, director of The Land Memory Bank & Seed Exchange and a member of the Another Gulf is Possible Collaborative, working to envision just economies, vibrant communities, and sustainable ecologies. Monique is supporting the Okla Hina Ikhish Hola (People of the Sacred Medicine Trail), a network of indigenous gardeners, as the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network Gulf South food and medicine sovereignty program manager. She is co-producer of the documentary My Louisiana Love and her work has been included in a variety of environmentally inspired projects, including the multiplatform performance Cry You One and the collaborative book Return to Yakni Chitto: Houma Migrations. 

Rebecca Saunders is the W.G. Haag Professor of Archaeology inthe Department of Geography and Anthropology and Curator of Anthropology in the LSU Museum of Natural Science. Her research interests include the Spanish mission period in la Florida - in particular, in changes in Native American pottery through time. She has also done extensive research on Archaic period shell rings (ca. 5000 - 2500 BCE) along the Southeastern coast and has mentored many undergraduate and graduate students through their own studies of the archaeology of Louisiana and the southeastern US. 


Related Reading:

Leigh Bloch 2020 “Animate earth, Settler Ruins: Mound Landscapes and Decolonial Futures in the Native South." Cultural Anthropology Vol. 35, Issue 4, pp. 516–545.

Sills, E. Cory. 2016 “Sharing Space—Football meets the 5,000 year old LSU Campus Mounds.” The SAA Archaeological Record 16(4):28–31.

Sites of Conscience, Louisiana

"Sites of Conscience, Louisiana" is an undergraduate research and public humanities program focused on today's debates and interventions around monuments and memorialization. This program is a key intiative for the Ethics Institute for the Spring and Fall of 2021.

A "site of conscience" refers to any place of memory that commemorates the past in order to ensure a more just future. According to The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, such sites "connect past struggles to today's movements for justice and human rights."

This structured undergraduate research program is designed to give LSU students the opportunity to identify and design sites of conscience that will provide both students and Louisiana residents with a deeper context for today's debates around monuments and memorialization.

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