The Atakapa-Ishak (uh-TAK-uh-paw – ee-SHAK), are a Southwest Louisiana/Southeast Texas tribe of ancient Indians who lived in the Gulf of Mexico’s northwestern crescent and called themselves Ishak. The name means The People.
In prehistoric times the Ishak divided into two populations known to this day as, “The Sunrise People” and “The Sunset People”. Some Ishak lived on the south coast of what is now Texas, down to Matagorda Bay. Other Ishak lived on the upper coast of the Gulf’s northwestern crescent at what is now Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. In Louisiana, on the coast, we spread all the way to what is now Vermilion Bay. The former Ishak, those on the lower coast, inhabited the land to perhaps a distance of a week’s walk. Those on the upper coast inhabited the land to perhaps a distance of several weeks’ walk.
They 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 them a reputation and rumor of being “man eaters”, which continues through today.
After 1762, when Louisiana was transferred to Spain following French defeat in the Seven Years’ War, little was written about the Atakapa as a tribe. Due to a high rate of deaths from infectious disease epidemics brought by Europeans, they ceased to function as a tribe. Survivors generally joined the Caddo, Koasati, and other surrounding tribes, although they kept some traditions. Some culturally distinct Atakapan people survived into the 20th century.