Devon Parfait PHOTO BY BRENDON BOURG
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Devon Parfait’s earliest memories are of the Louisiana bayou. He spent countless hours on his grandfather Pierre’s shrimping boat, hauling up freshly baited traps and hearing old family stories. His family, part of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, had lived off the water for generations.
Now 25, Parfait is helping his community navigate a future made uncertain by climate change. Last year he became chief of the 1,100-member Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe.
“I always knew I wanted to work on behalf of my people,” Parfait says. He was chosen to be chief when he was 12 years old, after showing what former chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar (a distant cousin) described as a persistent interest in preserving tribal customs and helping the community. “Having the title of future chief has guided me throughout my life, helping me to make decisions so that I would be prepared to be a leader in our future community.”
Parfait lives in Marrero, about an hour from Dulac. As chief, he represents his tribe in negotiations with local and state governments, works with elders to organize community events, and leads outreach to other tribes. When he’s not attending to those duties, he’s working as a coastal resilience analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). There, he researches technical solutions to land loss, like sediment diversions and shoreline protection, and organizes with other regional advocacy groups. It’s a combination he describes as a “dream role.”
As a coastal resilience analyst, Parfait advocates for technical solutions to land erosion, like canal-filling, which he describes as a way to let the land heal naturally. He says these practices won’t be enough to stop coastal erosion in its tracks, but they “can help to buy us incredibly valuable time.”
Parfait’s day job with EDF also gives him some hope and a sense of agency. He’s currently developing a methodology to make it easier to fill in canals across the state, something he said will be crucial to slowing coastal erosion.