Tyler Duplantis, a Thibodaux resident, advocated for “Bring Back Louisiana” at last week’s press conference at the Louisiana State Capitol. Duplantis has first-hand experience of how COVID can affect everyday life and traditions from not only his personal experiences but through his experience with the United Houma Nation.
Duplantis was a senior at Nicholls State University in March of 2020. He said on a Friday, there was talk that classes would be moving online. By that very next Monday, all classes were online, and it changed everything. “I was looking forward to graduation and looking forward to finally finding a career in my degree,” Duplantis said, “I would never be able to say goodbye to my classmates, and I would never be able to say goodbye to my professors.” He shared his sister was a high school senior and was also ‘robbed’ of memories such as not being able to attend marching band music festivals. He pointed out that things like this may not seem like a big deal to some, but these are those memories that last a lifetime.
The summer after graduation, Duplantis was looking for a job in his field, which was tough, he said, because the “world shut down” at that point. A position opened up with his tribe at the Houma United Nation for a Community Outreach Coordinator, and he quickly accepted the position. This is where he first-hand got to experience the effects of COVID-19 in a community where intergenerational trauma exists.
They started delivering items to 500 households in six parishes and food distributions for elders who are at risk when it comes to COVID-19. That’s when they started receiving phone calls of elders passing away from the virus. “I like to mention those are our culture bearers. Those are community members who hold on to a lot of our traditions.” He explained that the United Houma Nation is the third-largest state-recognized tribe in Louisiana with 19,000 proud tribal citizens, but they are still not federally recognized, which would have helped with providing the tribe with more resources during the COVID pandemic. “This would have made the COVID response more effective because since they are not federally recognized, they didn’t have access in funding to help with efforts,” Duplantis said.
It was these experiences, along with phone calls of deaths, that led to a tough decision for Duplantis, “By then, I knew the severity of COVID-19.” He said he was concerned when the vaccination became available for his age range. “I was concerned with what’s in it. I was concerned about the long-term effects.” Being a person who likes asking questions, Duplantis said he went straight to the source for information instead of what he was seeing on social media. He then asked the same questions to different professionals to see if he would get the same answers, and he did, so it led him to become more comfortable with his decision.
Duplantis said he also wanted to add that the vaccination has helped ease some anxiety and made him feel more comfortable with everyday tasks. “It’s as if I have a shield around me sometimes,” he said. Although he said he has chosen to still wear masks in large crowds and stores because of the population he works with, he now feels more comfortable around people he knows and smaller gatherings.
Duplantis has been working with ‘Bring back Louisiana’ for quite some time. He said the Louisiana Health Department started to look at Region 3, which serves the Assumption, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, St. Mary, Terrebonne parishes because they noticed that the percentage of people in the region not getting the COVID vaccination was high. Duplantis said one of the top communities not getting the vaccine was in the Dulac area which contains a high number of tribe natives. The Louisiana Health Department wanted to help the tribe to gain trust to not only properly educate the area, but also provide opportunities for those to have access to the vaccination. “Bring Back Louisiana was so important to our community because I found a lot of our people didn’t have access to technology or transportation, and that was the biggest issue that we found,” Duplantis said, “Bring Back Louisiana was able to set up vaccination locations in the areas.” He said that was just the beginning because they are now moving forward to working with the Department of Health and ‘Bring Back Louisiana’ to bring the success they have seen in Dulac to other regions. It was the work and his speeches at the events with the United Houma Nation that led to the opportunity to share his story at the state capitol. Duplantis said he was honored to be asked, and even though he was asked just a day before, he wasn’t nervous to speak. “I have to look past the negative feedback because I know I’m doing the right thing.”
He said, like many, he’s just ready to get back to normal. “Last year, we were not able to host our annual Pow Wow. This Pow Wow is a chance for the community to come together and to be able to learn more about our culture and to be able to introduce the kids to our culture. With the COVID-19 cases rising again, I would love for us to all get vaccinated so that we can host a Pow Wow again so that we can come together as a community. I’m not standing here telling you that you have to take the vaccination; I’m standing here telling you that if you do have concerns, don’t just make the assumption, don’t just say no. Ask those questions, go to the professionals and ask them before you just make a decision because I promise you the person next to you is asking those same questions.”
For more information on the United Houma Nation, visit https://unitedhoumanation.org/about/history/. If you have any questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccinations, learn more reliable information from your healthcare professional or visit https://covidvaccine.la.gov/.