Cajuns staying put despite oil spill toll

July 19, 2010 at 2:13 PM
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CHAUVIN, La., July 19 (UPI) -- Louisiana Cajuns say they're staying in bayou communities where their families have been for generations, even as the BP oil spill threatens their livelihoods.

The New York Times reported Monday the massive spill has shut down much of the commerce of a French-American culture that has been inextricably linked to the Gulf of Mexico since coming to the bayou after being evicted from what's now part of eastern Canada in the 1770s for refusing to swear allegiance to the British crown.

But evicted once, steeled by the threats of hurricanes and floods and acutely aware of erosion eating away the gulf coast, some Cajuns told the newspaper they won't be forced from their homeland by the oil spill -- or the heartbreak over losing their life's work.

"When our people got here from Nova Scotia, they called it 'la paradis de la Louisiane.' It was paradise," said Wylma Dusenbery, the matriarch of a large Cajun family of folk singers in Houma. "Nobody's moving."

The pervasive job losses have exacted a heavy toll.

"This has been the lowest low for me," said O'Neil Sevin, whose 45-foot skimmer, Heaven Bound, has been mostly docked because fishing areas have been closed. At the house where he and his wife Samantha live above their fishing business, Sevin said: "My wife cried and cried over this. Just the other night she told me, 'Thank God there isn't a loaded gun in this house.'"

Sevin. 50, does odd jobs on a dock and is trying to learn to make shrimp nets from his 73-year-old father, a longtime fisherman.

Normally, Sevin told the Times, daily sales this time of year total about $4,000 in bait to deep-sea fisherman and seafood to retailers. BP has paid him $21,000, nearly three months after the explosion of the rig, and the company rejected his boat when he tried to get work in the cleanup. Sevin takes anti-anxiety medicine to calm his nerves.

Sevin, a lifelong professional fisherman, wrote in his journal, "I really have a lot of pain inside of me not knowing what is truly going to happen."

His wife, 45, shares the anxiety but perseveres, talking to longtime clients about possible post-spill business tailored to their needs.

"I ain't going nowhere," she said. "I might have to die right here, but I'm not leaving."

Randy Jones, a 50-year-old deckhand on the Heaven Bound, said every generation of his family has lived along Bayou Petit Caillou since the 18th century.

"If you can't trawl, you get a sideline job like I'm doing, carpentry," he said. "I don't want to leave. Go somewhere else to learn how to fight something else like mudslides or earthquakes? I'm not inclined to do that."

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