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Colette Pichon Battle on Preparing for the Next Katrina


(By Manoush Zomorodi for NPR) Last fall, we did an episode about our relationship with water. And for some people, that relationship is with the water they drink. But for others, it’s the water that surrounds them.

COLETTE PICHON BATTLE: The bayou is green and lush and all of the things that equal bountiful life. But it is also watery and muddy. You can smell everything. You can smell when something has died. You can smell when something is newly bloomed. The swamp is very noisy. It’s never quiet – full of everything, but if you had to live there your whole life, you would have everything you needed.

ZOMORODI: This is Colette Pichon Battle. She was born and raised in southern Louisiana and grew up in the middle of all of those smells and sounds.

PICHON BATTLE: Yeah. I grew up in Bayou Liberty, just north of New Orleans, in the bayou. I lived in the house where my mother was born, that my grandfather built. I lived on the land that has been in my family for generations, even before it was America.

ZOMORODI: Collette is an attorney. She practiced law for years, but these days, she’s taken on another role.

PICHON BATTLE: I’m a climate activist now. Not a title I would have given myself, not a title I would have preferred, but I’ll take it – whatever works.

ZOMORODI: She’ll take it because she feels like she doesn’t have a choice. Rising sea levels and stronger storms are constantly threatening the land that Colette’s family has lived on for generations.

PICHON BATTLE: I work at the community level to make sure that Black folks and poor folks and Native folks are part of this climate movement.

ZOMORODI: For Colette, that means bringing her neighbors into the policy conversations, sharing the science around global warming and making sure that they contribute their knowledge, too, because this community understands the ebb and flow of the water better than anyone.

PICHON BATTLE: Our livelihood and our life was absolutely with water every day. And in the spring, which most folks understand as hurricane season – that is where you really had to start paying attention. So you would hear people talking about how much rain they got, how far did the flooding go up. But it wasn’t a panic. It was more informational.

And I can remember as a child during hurricanes, the hurricane has, like, three portions to it. It’s the sort of outer wall, the eye and then the next wall. And as a kid, when the eye would pass – so that was always when you would have several hours of open, clear sky, clear air, and you could go check on things. And I remember it being so much fun to go out in the eye of the storm to go check on folks. Isn’t that crazy?


PICHON BATTLE: You would get in a – we’d call them Pirogue – in a flat-bottomed boat. You’d get in a Pirogue, go down the street, make sure folks were OK.


PICHON BATTLE: It was just enough time to go make sure no one had a tree in their roof or needed help. And then you would go back in, and you would wait for that other band to go across. And it wasn’t a terrible existence. It was just one where you had to have traditional knowledge coupled with your reality in order to survive.

ZOMORODI: Nature was somewhat predictable. But all that changed in 2005, when those weather patterns shifted.

PICHON BATTLE: The real moment of noticing that change was Katrina.

Read the full story here.

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