The Alabama-Coushatta Still Exist and Are Doing What They Need to Do to Continue

Beset by federal budget cuts, no written history and a general lack of recognition, the Alabama-Coushatta try to learn a different way of being indian.

The Alabama-Coushatta Still Exist and Are Doing What They Need to Do to Continue
Daniel Kramer

Singing filled the hall while the drumbeat rattled the yellow pine walls. Obrey Alec, eyes closed, gently shook his long, graying hair and smacked the drum while a wail poured from his throat. It was a song from another tribe and the words weren't in Alabama or Coushatta, the two closely related languages of the Alabama-Coushatta of Texas.

Bryant Celestine, tribe historian, watched it all through the lens of his video camera. The dancers wore sequin-covered costumes that were loosely historically accurate for their people. The children in the audience, even their own children from the reservation's Head Start program, stared up at the dancers, eyes round, mouths agape, peeking into an alien world. Celestine smiled a bit while taking care to hold the camera straight. Here they were, putting on their finest costumes, celebrating Federal Restoration Week, and most people in the U.S. had no idea they existed here on this patch of land just outside Livingston in East Texas.

They've been in Texas since the late 1700s and on this plot of land on the edge of the Big Thicket since the 1850s, but no one gave them much thought when the stories laced through the national media about the poor, forgotten Native Americans, the Navajo and the Cherokee — both tribes with vast riches in terms of money, power and numbers compared to the Alabama-Coushatta.

The Alabama-Coushatta gave a performance for children from the reservation Head Start and local private school during Restoration Week, singing songs learned from other tribes because many of their own songs have been lost.
Dianna Wray
The Alabama-Coushatta gave a performance for children from the reservation Head Start and local private school during Restoration Week, singing songs learned from other tribes because many of their own songs have been lost.
Ronnie Thomas, chairman of the Tribal Council, says he knows there will likely be more federal budget cuts but he's hoping the tribe will be able to reopen their casino and be more self-sufficient.
Daniel Kramer
Ronnie Thomas, chairman of the Tribal Council, says he knows there will likely be more federal budget cuts but he's hoping the tribe will be able to reopen their casino and be more self-sufficient.

When the political battle in Washington, D.C., resulted in sequestration — automatic, across-the-board, bluntly delivered budget cuts — for federal programs, the Alabama-Coushatta took 5 percent reductions in their budget with grace and hoped the money would be restored. When the ideological struggle brought the entire federal government to a standstill at the beginning of October, the Alabama-Coushatta could only wait, helpless, and have faith that the government would be up and running before the federally funded programs — which about 500 members on the reservation and most of the 1,150 recognized members of the tribe rely on — ran out of money.

They waited while no one in the wider world gave them much thought. "We've been here for generations, but people don't even know we're still out here," Celestine said. "People think there are no Indians left in Texas."

This is a problem being felt by all tribes across the board, Amber Ebarb, budget and policy analyst for the National Congress of American Indians, said. "Tribal agreements have been collateral damage in this ideological back-and-forth in politics," Ebarb said. "We're getting lost in the larger debate."

This is tough for the larger tribes, but for tribes like the Alabama-Coushatta, it keeps them pinned in a corner, unable to move forward and become what they could be or to have any real control over their future.

Although many in the tribe expect further budget cuts to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, they gathered for their annual round of events celebrating Tribe Week, or Restoration Week, which honors the day back in 1987 when they again became a federally recognized tribe.

Celestine kept his recorder trained on the dancers as Alec's voice swelled. The dancers kept their faces blank as they stomped across the diamond-patterned carpet, a blur of brightly colored clothing and jingling bells, the men rustling their feathers like enormous tropical birds.

Outside, a crew of young guys wearing reservation crew T-shirts clicked the poles of a teepee into place, white with red trim, the Alabama-Coushatta colors, though their ancestors never lived in teepees. That was the Plains Indians. "My dad made it. I did the handprints on the side," one of the guys said, shrugging.
_____________________

Just seven months ago, the Alabama-Coushatta tribe was on the brink of transformation. It has been more than ten years since their casino opened and swiftly closed nine months later, shuttered by state law, but the tribe hasn't let go of the vision of lines of cars traveling the narrow road on the edge of the Big Thicket, bringing gamblers, tourist dollars and plenty to the reservation again.

They poured money and time into lobbying key lawmakers in the state legislature and in Congress, but their efforts were lost in the greater political struggles. Allowing the Texas Indians the right to reopen their casino wasn't a priority this year.

Though some tribes have had great success with casinos, studies show that they aren't the cure-all the tribes without them imagine them to be, according to the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. Even tribes with gambling rights are trying to diversify their economies by spreading out investments, encouraging manufacturing companies to partner with the tribes and seeking government contracts, according to Tribal Government Gaming.

But the Alabama-Coushatta believe everything hinges on getting that gaming license. With a casino, young people would have a future besides simply leaving the rez behind. If people started coming to the reservation to gamble, the tribe could reopen the Cultural Center, which has been shuttered these many years. A casino would create a way of life that didn't include the usual tropes of disease and addiction that are so common on reservations in America that they've become cliché.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
5 comments
Puller58
Puller58

Well of course they are in trouble.  Reservations got used to casino money to keep things running.  You close any tribal casino and things go downhill.

Sam Samson
Sam Samson

They have a cigarette store on FM 1960.

chickdog
chickdog

Its called Regalia not Costumes!!

chickdog
chickdog

Regalia not Costumes!!!!

Noellyn111
Noellyn111

my Aunty Peyton got a year old Audi RS 5 Convertible by working from the internet. he said J­a­m­2­0­.­­o­m

 
Houston Concert Tickets
Loading...