HOUMA. The Houmas (Ouma) are an American Indian tribe of the Muskogean language family first encountered in 1682 by René-Robert Cavalier de la Salle on the east bank of the Mississippi River, opposite from the mouth of the Red River. Their population in 1699 was estimated at about 700 individuals living in upwards of 150 cabins. They were closely related to the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Chakchiuma tribes. Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, was named for the red pole on the Mississippi that established the southern boundary of their hunting territory.
The Houmas remained steadfast allies of Louisiana throughout the French period (1699–1766), helping not only to feed New Orleans by selling goods in the public markets, but also as military allies; their villages constituted the first line of defense from the north for New Orleans and the settlements just upriver of the city (known as the German Coast). The French alliance cost the Houmas dearly: not only did they suffer from epidemics, but they had conflicts with neighboring and regional tribes, and were targets of slave raiders from South Carolina. They moved near New Orleans after 1706, although over the next decade or so they moved upriver into present-day Ascension Parish, near the head of Bayou Lafourche. As early as 1739, due to their continually dwindling numbers, the Houmas were reportedly combining with other local tribes.
There are few accounts of the Houmas during the Spanish period (1766–1803), and they virtually disappear from the historical record within a decade of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Some time later, they moved down Bayou Lafourche into present-day Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes. By the early twentieth century, the anthropologist John Swanton had visited them and written a report for the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology that concluded that the historic Houmas were all but extinct as a people. He characterized the people who called themselves Houmas as a tri-racial isolate who identified themselves as Indian, but who were so intermarried with whites and blacks that they were racially little different from the Cajuns among whom they lived.
During the 1970s and 1980s the Houma organized themselves as the United Houma Nation, Incorporated, and sought federal recognition as an Indian tribe. Although they have been denied federal recognition, they were recognized by the state of Louisiana, and they continue to press their status as American Indians and to seek federal recognition. As of 2002, the tribal council claimed to represent over 20,000 tribal members.
Bowman, Greg, and Janel Curry-Roper. The Houma Indian People of Louisiana: A Story of Indian Survival. Houma, La.: United Houma Nation, 1982.
Davis, Dave. "A Case of Identity: Ethnogenesis of the New Houma Indians." Ethnohistory 48 (2001): 473–494.