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Their ancestors fled the Trail of Tears and found refuge nearly 200 years ago on an island on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. But now that home on Isle de Jean Charles is slipping into the sea, a consequence of coastal erosion, subsidence and climate change. Frequent floods and increasingly ferocious storms have washed away heirlooms, destroyed houses, scattered families.

Once more, the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians face displacement. This time, though, they aim to confront it on their own terms.

A key to their success may lie amid a collection of ancient artifacts and faded photos nearly 1,200 miles away. There, at a Smithsonian Institution facility in Suitland, Md., three generations of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaws just spent a week painstakingly sifting through materials from their tribe’s past. They were looking for evidence to supplement their petition for official “acknowledgment” from the federal government — a decades-old effort that has gained new urgency as the state of Louisiana moves to resettle the last island residents.

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An aerial view of the Isle de Jean Charles, which has lost 98 percent of its land mass in the past six decades. (Heather Stone)

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‘We’re searching to reclaim what was lost’: In museum archives, a tribe …

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