Jeffery U. Darensbourg

Jeffery U. Darensbourg

He // Him // His

[ID: A man with close-cropped hair and clear-rimmed glasses sits in a wooden chair by a window, gazing out at the viewer. He is wearing a turquoise necklace and all-black clothing.]

Portrait photo by Rush Jagoe.

Writer and Performer
2024 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by Anonymous.

Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana of Creole and Indigenous ancestry, Jeffery Darensbourg’s work explores culture and language in the lives of mixed-ethnicity people in Louisiana and the ways in which various categories, attitudes, and histories regionally intersect with his own life. He has published essays, zines, and poems and has had a play produced. He is known for his lecture performances and also as a regular guest on broadcasts and podcasts. He holds a PhD in cognitive science and is an advocate for Indigenous languages, especially Ishakkoy, and Indigenous place names, especially the original name for where he lives, Bulbancha (known to many as New Orleans). His recent work has focused on family trauma, mental illness, and the experience of passing (much of the time) for white. Darensbourg is an enrolled member of the Atakapa-Ishak Nation of Indians and a Fellow of the Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.


“Hunting Memories of the Grass Things: An Indigenous Reflection on Bison in Louisiana”

If someone were to ask me what Indigenous Peoples ate in Southwest Louisiana, I would mention things that people eat now, such as crawfish or turkeys. I would also name things people forage now, from the popular pecan to the less popular bull thistle. I would describe standing on a midden of rangia clam shells at Four Mile Cutoff, a ship channel in Vermilion Parish. After tasting a rangia clam, a mollusk smaller than an oyster with a somewhat spoiled flavor even when fresh, I find past attempts to commercialize this item laughable in the highest degree. I would also point out that Indigenous People ate bison in Louisiana. To some, this is surprising.

I live in Bulbancha, “the place of other languages,” which colonizers renamed as New Orleans. But some of us still refer to it by its older name, a bit of single-word decolonization. The earliest French colonial visitors to Bulbancha, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and crew, recorded seeing three bison napping on the banks of the river. There are Louisiana places named after bison. One such place, Bayou Terre aux Boeufs, in St. Bernard Parish near Bulbancha, still has a significant population of Indigenous People…

The bison available from Costco was a typical capitalist product — ground with machinery, properly labeled, ready for consumption — but the ribs were different. They had been exported from Texas to Bulbancha, from Old Mexico to New France. They still looked like ribs, even after processing. The pastrami ribs at Costco were much closer to the bison products of the Ishak of old than the actual ground bison of the meat section. Smoked bison ribs were exported by the French from the port across town during the eighteenth century. A box of plat côté, as these ribs were called, appears in French polymath Alexandre de Batz’s 1735 painting Desseins de Sauvages de Plusieurs Nations, which also features an Ishak man and even has a version of the word “Bulbancha” in it.