“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.