Film to feature researcher’s oral history work with coastal residents


The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has tapped the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Dr. Heather Stone for a role in its “In Times of Crisis: Stories from the Gulf of Mexico” film project.

"In Times of Crisis” will consist of three short films that illustrate how college and university researchers are partnering with coastal communities to prepare for – or to recover from – crises. The roughly 10-minute films will premiere during a free livestream at noon on Tuesday, June 14. A webinar will follow that will include discussion among a panel of scholars, and experts in disaster studies and community resilience.  

Stone, an assistant professor in UL Lafayette’s College of Education, will be featured in the “Isle of Memories: Stories of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw” film. “Isle of Memories” is based on Stone’s six-year collaboration with residents of Isle de Jean Charles, a tiny island in Terrebonne Parish, La. Members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe of Native Americans have called Isle de Jean Charles home for nearly 200 years.

That home, however, bears little resemblance to the 22,000-acre island where residents once hunted, trapped, fished and farmed. Since 1955, Isle de Jean Charles has dwindled to about 320 acres; coastal erosion, storms, and soil depletion caused by dredging for oil and gas pipelines are the culprits.

The collaborative oral history project is the framework for “Isle of Memories.” The film’s foundation is Isle de Jean Charles’ residents, and their desire to piece together a comprehensive history of the island – one built around their recollections, stories and perspectives.

In the film, residents discuss their ancestral home – and their struggle to retain their customs and identity as the island disappears. Many interviews were filmed on Isle de Jean Charles, and in resident’s homes.

The film, Stone explained, focuses on “the connections the tribe and I have formed, and how through those connections I’ve helped them collect oral histories and photographs and maps to archive their cultural history.”

“It’s a true partnership, not an academic project being directed by a researcher. It’s me talking to people and asking, ‘How can I help you?’ It’s about me finding out, ‘What’s important to you, and why is it important?’” she added.

The other two films for “In Times of Crisis” reflect projects by researchers at the universities of Florida and South Alabama. Port St. Joe, Florida, which was devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018, is the subject of one film; the other centers on Bayou La Batre, Alabama, and its struggles since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine provides expert advice to address international challenges, and to advance science, engineering, and medicine. The nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., was established in 1863.

View the free livestream of the “In Times of Crisis” premiere and webinar on the National Academies website.

Photo caption: UL Lafayette’s Dr. Heather Stone (left) and Chief Albert Naquin of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe of Native Americans, will appear in a short film about she and tribe members’ oral history project. The film will premiere at noon on Tuesday, June 14, via a free livestream. Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette