The Akokisa and the Atakapans

by Kerri Wilhelm

I’ve been working with one of our visiting researchers in the Human Osteology collection to provide information that may assist them in determining potential descendant populations of the Akikosa and Atakapa.  Making use of resources such as Texas Beyond History, our indispensable site files and archeological reports, as well as publicly available resources drawn from the UT libraries, the THC’s documentation on tribal claims and contacts ( and the online NAGPRA Native American Consultation Database, I can help researchers make connections between archeologically represented indigenous people and potentially descendant modern Native American groups.  Being able to make those connections allows researchers to investigate topics like cultural evolution, affiliation and identity, gene flow and admixture, and provides a larger context for their specific research goals.  It’s really exciting when the collections at TARL support what the documentation is telling us and a clearer image of the past begins to take shape.

Coastal prairie and marshland locations identified through archeological work to have been inhabited by prehistoric and historic populations of indigenous people.  Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.
Coastal prairie and marshland locations identified through archeological work to have been inhabited by prehistoric and historic populations of indigenous people. Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.


Detail from 1776 map by British cartographer and publisher Thomas Jefferys. Most of what the British knew about New Spain came from maps, charts, and sketches captured from Spanish warships by the British Armada. Although the geography is distorted and the map was already outdated in many regards when it was printed, it does name the Atacapa as “Wandering Indians” in southeast Texas. Source: David Rumsey Map Collection. Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.







Approximate territories of native groups of the upper Texas coast in the early 18th century as reconstructed by Lawrence Aten in his 1983 book, Indians of the Upper Texas Coast (Academic Press). Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.



Territory of the Atakapa-speaking groups in the 18th century as reconstructed by W.W. Newcomb (2004, Fig 1). Image courtesy of Texas Beyond History.


There is a group of people who self-identify as being descendants of the Atakapa who are currently in the process of applying for federal recognition as a Native American tribe (“Atakapa-Ishak Nation”).

“We were called Atakapa by the Choctaw.  The name was used by the Spaniards and French colonizers in Louisiana, as a slur word to refer to the Ishak people.  This gave us a reputation and rumor of being “man eaters”, which continues through today.  We, the descendants of the Atakapa-Ishak Indians exist unrecognized and misnamed under various names of choice like Creoles, Creole Indians, and Creoles of Color.  The term “colored” has clouded our racial identity.  Atakapa-Ishak descendants show a wide range of complexions which is attributed to the genes for light or brown complexions.  Many Atakapa-Ishak no longer know their correct racial identity.”

For more information on this tribe, their journey toward federal recognition and their ties to southeastern Texas, please visit their website at:



4 thoughts on “The Akokisa and the Atakapans”

  1. This is welcome news, indeed. For some reason, I had harbored the notion that the Atakapans were virtually extinct along with the other Coahuiltecan speakers. Years ago I had read that the displaced Tonkawas in Oklahoma had diminished to some 76 individuals. Are there any Karankawas still living?

  2. Sirica Augustine-Simmons. You said you are creole as in the Black creoles right? If so, that could mean that you are mixed with Native American, though it may not be Atakapa. I’m an Afro Native myself of the Shinnecock tribe, but my mother’s family is from Texas and they do have Navajo/Zuni Native American and Cherokee as well. A lot of African Americans in the south of Native blood.

    1. My research has uncovered that a lot of people thought to be of African descent are actually native Americans , and that classification changed over the years. From indigenous native Americans to negros. As to keep the truth and reparations away.

  3. I am attakapa descent from the chiefly lines and have traced them back for the last 20 years. It is time for the Attakapa to be federally recognized by the government. There is alot of land that belongs to the Nation. Kevin Howell kehveeneh93@
    I would be interested in making this happen for the tribe in Texas and Louisiana. Blessings

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