Coffee with Corey: Honoring the Old Ways

By Corey Poole

The love for Louisiana’s history bloomed at a young age for Anthropologist Dustin Fuqua. Growing up in Marksville, his family’s property was located close to Marksville Historic State Park, the location of sacred Native American burial grounds containing ancestral remains from Tunica-Biloxi citizens that once-inhabited the area.

While hunting, fishing and exploring, a young Dustin would find arrowheads and shards of pottery. He’d ride his bike to the library and find books to identify the artifacts.

From playing at the park to volunteering, Dustin became an employee by the age of 16. It wasn’t long before he became known as a high school prodigy who collected everyone’s artifacts.

When it was time for college, Dustin was thinking of majoring in Journalism. On a tour of the campus at Northwestern State University, he was hooked on anthropology as soon as he took one step into the Williamson Museum.

The Williamson Museum, which turned 100 years old in 2022, houses over 100,000 artifacts, including art objects and baskets from 41 Native American tribes in the southeastern United States, many that date to prehistory.

Dustin transferred to Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site during college, which turned out to be the best place to study history and culture as employees dressed in time period clothing while educating the public.

These were formative years for Dustin as he met great people (shout out to Rhonda Gauthier and Tommy Adkins). His job at the fort anchored him and was a positive force as he focused on his grades and avoided the pressures of partying.

The late John Oswald Colson was one of the first authentic people Dustin met when he first came to Natchitoches.

“He reminded me of home and we clicked instantly,” Dustin said with a smile. “We became family and he opened up the world of medicinal plants and changed my life.”

Dustin would drive Os to pick sassafras in Kisatchie to make file’, as Os was known as “The File’ Man.”

While working a booth at the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, Dustin was introduced to National Park Service employee Laura Gates. 

Gates gave Dustin the best advice: Look for where you can make the most impact and focus there.

The state park system was fun, but for Dustin, the National Park Service took things to a whole new level professionally. He started as a museum aid at 19-years-old at the Cane River Creole National Historical Park’s curation facility with additional responsibilities at Oakland and Magnolia Plantations.

When the park service found out he could speak French, Dustin was quickly sent out to conferences and events. It was a big responsibility and was stressful, but he worked his way up and is now the cultural resource program manager for the CRCNHP.

An interesting side note, administrative titles like Dustin’s used to be considered “division manager chiefs.” Under the Biden administration, there’s been a focus on righting some wrongs. For example, the title of “chief” could be insulting. According to Dustin, there’s also been an awakening in the park service to rename places on maps with indigenous language.

“It’s been pretty cool to be a part of this,” said Dustin.

In January of 2022, the City of Natchitoches, the Cane River National Heritage Area, and the CRCNHP hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the Texas and Pacific Railway Depot Rehabilitation Project. On top of this project, the NPS transferred around 1 million artifacts to a nearby warehouse, which is now one of the best curating facilities in the Southeast region. It now features a conservation lab, loading docks, and a freezer to treat objects with molds or pests.

Dustin has always adhered to the old ways and has always honored them, from taking on the mantle of “The File’ Man” to attending a ceremony to promote “la francophonie louisianaise,” where Emmanuel Macron, President of France, confirmed his commitment to French language and culture.

A fun side note Dustin shared on the event was listening to Zachary Richard sing “Aux Natchitoches.”

On a more local level, Dustin established a French Table chapter in Natchitoches. With chapters throughout the state, French Table events are free to all levels and dialects of French speakers. No matter one’s proficiency, French Tables are a great place to improve one’s understanding and speaking of French. 

He also works with the Creole community in the Isle Brevelle area (shout out to FJ Delphin) to celebrate its culture with events like cochon de laits (pig roasts) and old style la boucheries, a communal tradition where people come together to slaughter a hog and share the meat. Another shout out goes to Elvin Shields, who Dustin works with to tell the stories of the African American culture on the plantations.

Moving to Alexandria in 2017 is the hardest part of the job, just due to the daily drive to Natchitoches. It requires careful scheduling, but Dustin enjoys everything he does.

Another challenge Dustin is facing is watching the spoken French language end with the recent passing of the last two fluent speakers in the region.

“It’s about finding the fun parts of it and not letting it become a chore,” Dustin shared.

Through it all, the most rewarding aspect of Dustin’s job as an anthropologist is working with the cultures of the Cane River region in Natchitoches Parish, the creole community, the families and their stories, and the wonderful traditions.

“It’s rewarding to bring attention to Cane River through all areas of work I do,” Dustin added.

He’s had opportunities to move up in the park service system, but has declined them all because it would mean leaving the Natchitoches area behind. Let’s not even mention that it would mean missing the opening weekend of squirrel season with his daughter, picking sassafras in May, and Mardi Gras!

“You can’t take the Louisiana out of me,” he said. More importantly Dustin wants to issue a call to action to everyone in Louisiana to learn their histories and not let it disappear.