DULAC, La. (AP) – In the Terrebonne Parish area, Santa sometimes wears a huge white feather headdress and big cuffs beaded in black, yellow, red and white.
Indian Santa and the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program gave more than 1,000 presents at 10 locations over the past two weekends, Thomas Dardar Jr., principal chief of the United Houma Nation, told The Courier.
Sunday, he played Santa for 250 children at the Dulac Community Center. Each got a photo with Dardar and a Christmas gift.
“The kids look forward to it,” said Jamie Billiot, executive director of the Dulac Community Center. “They’re already proud of their heritage, and this reinforces that.”
Earline Collins of Dulac said her five grandchildren woke her up in the morning, though the festivities didn’t begin until 1 p.m.
“At 10:30, I’m still getting dressed, and they were all sitting in the car, saying, `Let’s go.’ They’ve been looking forward to this,” she said.
“A lot of people down here can’t get their kids everything they want to,” said Collins, who works as a school-bus driver. “This is a great way to get the whole community together.”
Juaneka Smith, 20, of Bobtown held her 15-month-old son, Joshua, as she waited his turn with Santa. Smith said she remembers visits with Indian Santa when she was a child. But she was at Sunday’s giveaway out of necessity, not nostalgia.
“I wasn’t going to be able to get him anything this year,” said Smith, who is unemployed. “I remember when I’d get nothing for Christmas, and I don’t want him to have that memory. I need all the help I can get.”
It has been a rough year for the impoverished fishing community of Dulac.
The shrimping season, which ends on Tuesday, has been poor, according to the Louisiana Shrimp Association, which claims that catches are down by as much as 80 percent.
The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reports an estimated 54.68 million pounds of shrimp were caught by commercial fishermen from January to July of this year.
That’s up from the same period last year, when the catch was 27.38 million pounds in the wake of the BP oil spill. But the numbers haven’t caught up to pre-spill levels. In 2009, for example, the catch totaled 61.37 million pounds.
The Indian Santa tradition was started more than 25 years ago in response to crisis in the United Houma Nation community, according to Tommy Dardar III, the chief’s son, who has been helping with the Indian Santa festivities since he was a teenager.
“After Hurricane Juan hit, it looked like children in the low-lying areas weren’t going to get anything,” he said. “The tribe raised money, collected gifts and teamed up with the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program.”
Though Sunday’s turnout in Dulac wasn’t unusually high, the tribe has visited more communities with significant Houma Indian populations this year, adding stops in Bayou Blue and elsewhere.
“We saw the need,” Dardar said. “Looking back, maybe that need has always existed, or maybe it’s more prevalent now, based on the slowing of the economy.”
Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com