Jessi Parfait, an anthropologist, joined the human dimensions team at the Institute in early August, bringing her enthusiasm for people and culture to the work of connecting environmental and community challenges.
Parfait graduated from LSU with a bachelor’s in anthropology and is currently pursuing her master’s in anthropology from the LSU Department of Geography and Anthropology which she expects to complete by the end of 2019. As part of a National Academy of Sciences grant with Louisiana Sea Grant, she conducted research with her tribe, The United Houma Nation, studying how tribal members in Dulac and Golden Meadow, Louisiana have adapted to chronic and acute stressors.
“For my thesis I’m writing about the effects of forced migration on culture, specifically my culture, the United Houma Nation,” Parfait said. “I think how well we’ve maintained culture, as we’re spread out across six coastal parishes and around the country, is remarkable.”
The connections between environmental changes and the cultures of south Louisiana, and addressing disparities within coastal communities, inform a large part of her work and interests.
“Just hearing the level of importance of those things echoed in the Institute from both the leadership and the staff, I thought this is somewhere I can work,” Parfait said.
Through her work with Louisiana Sea Grant, Jessi became passionate about stakeholder engagement and the use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in planning processes. She also served as the archivist for The United Houma Nations for four years, digitizing thousands of historical documents over that time. This work highlighted for her the importance of understanding the history of people and places when working with communities trying to adapt to current crises.
“Jessi’s ability to connect with people and bring the rigor of the scientific process to stakeholder engagement will be a great asset to the Institute. She has already utilized her experience to advance a current project we are working on in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes,” said Scott Hemmerling, Institute’s Director of Human Dimensions. “Having her unique experience and perspective on the team serves to expand our abilities as we help communities tackle the tough decisions they are facing.”