Katrina, Rita destroyed homes of thousands of American Indians

Thousands of members of at least five Indian tribes in southern Louisiana were affected by the hurricanes. They include various bands of the Biloxi-Chitimacha, as well as Muskogees.

"There's been a total devastation of homes, communities, jobs and lifestyle," said Brenda Dardar Robichaux, principal chief of the United Houma Nation.

Tribal leaders said it is important that their members remain near ancestral land and worried that many might eventually be forced to move away. Hurricanes, they said, threaten to erode not only their land but age-old community ties as well.

"We feel like we've got to get our people home to rebuild, because if we don't, we lose a part of our history; we lose a part of our culture; we lose a part of who we are as Houma people," Robichaux said.

She estimated that at least half of the tribe's 16,000 members were affected by the storms. Some lived in urban New Orleans parishes, and many lived near the bayous.

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