The Weather Channel reports that a French-speaking Indian tribe who live deep in the Louisiana bayou, some 50 miles south of New Orleans, became the United States' first official "climate refugees" last month when the federal government awarded them $48 million to relocate. The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe has inhabited Isle de Jean Charles for centuries, but because of a slow-moving disaster caused by sinking land, climate change and oil exploration, they've all but lost the land they call home. With more than 1,900 square miles of land vanishing in the past 80 years, Isle de Jean Charles has been reduced from 11 miles long and five miles wide in the 1950s, to around two miles long and a quarter-mile wide today. The monies are part of $92 million awarded to Louisiana by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of a National Disaster Resilience Competition the state won, according to Indian Country Today.
By the official United Nations definition, the tribe is "interally displaced" rather than "refugees," because they have not been forced across international borders. But they are now part of a growing portion of humanity forced from their lands by climate change—whether sea-level rise, as in Bangladesh or Fiji, or desertification, as in Somalia. There are Native Alaskan villages that are clearly next in line.