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.

Muddled in among all the anachronism of warbonnets and teepees, there was a museum. When you walked into it, it was as if you were entering a cave like the one the tribe first emerged from, according to legend. Standing in the darkness, you would hear the pre-recorded voice of an old woman, the tribe storyteller, recounting how the Alabama and Coushatta came to be. The two were separate tribes, but because of proximity and circumstance, they share an origin story.

The people were in a large cave, the storyteller would say, but one day they decided to leave the cave to go looking for their creator. They came upon a large tree outside the cave, and the people who walked on one side were Alabama and those who walked on the other side were Coushatta.

Historically, they were Creek Indians, mound builders who lived near each other along the Mississippi River. From the first time European settlers entered the picture, it was a story of leaving. Certain clans from both the Alabama and the Coushatta decided early on that they didn't like the look of the newcomers and chose to move on. The tribes settled along the Trinity River when they first came to Texas and then finally on the edge of the Big Thicket.

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.

The Alabama-­Coushatta fought in the Texas Revolution and the Civil War, and managed to make sure their relations with the unending stream of settlers were positive, but the following decades — which brought the Dawes Act, the Trail of Tears, general discrimination and becoming mired in poverty and the social problems that go with it — were rough for Native Americans, including the Alabama-Coushatta, according to research gathered from 1992 to 2003 by the Institute of Texan Cultures at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The tribe won federal recognition in 1928, the key to getting federal aid, but by the 1950s the federal government was looking for a way to unload that responsibility. That was during the termination era, when the government sought to abolish reservations and ship their inhabitants to cities to be dumped into the mainstream culture. In 1954, the Alabama-Coushatta avoided that fate by getting the state to take over and hold their lands in trust.
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In 1983, Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox declared that there were no Indians in Texas. He rescinded the reservation's status as a recognized tribe and issued a bill for more than 30 years of overdue taxes, calling them an "unincorporated organization." The tribe challenged Mattox's ruling, while scrambling to find a way to get their reservation back into federal hands. They filed a countersuit, and all this happened as the recession gripping the country finally hit Texas. The flood of cars making their way up the slim roads to see the tribe slowed to a trickle. While the Alabama-Coushatta fought with the state over their status, the state reduced its economic support to the bare minimum and the tourism dollars the tribe had counted on to shore up its budget were lost.

By 1987 they got federal recognition again, but their efforts to slip a gambling provision into the deal were smacked down with outrage by the state. Then-state comptroller Bob Bullock balked at the gaming proposal, saying there would be an invasion by the mafia and the unions and a whore behind every tree in East Texas.

Celestine shook his head. "He's obviously never really been to East Texas because if he'd ever been out here, he'd have known there aren't enough prostitutes to go behind every tree. We've got a lot of trees," he said.

Nita Battise was just a kid when her father and the other members of the tribal council opened the tourism center. From the late 1960s to the 1980s visitors filled the place, watching as Battise and other children charmed snakes, wrangled alligators and acted out a vaguely historically accurate play about the tribe's long history in Texas.

Over the next few decades, attitudes about Native Americans changed. At the same time that those within the community were beginning to take pride in their culture and to push for the right to self-determination free of the constant intercessions of the Great White Father, the Alabama-Coushatta discovered tourism.

Growing up, Thomas, Celestine and Battise all took turns working at the tourism center. They knew the act they were putting on was more about show business than about who they really were, but it gave visitors what they wanted. When Battise was forced to leave the reservation — she fell in love with and married a non-Indian, which was against tribe rules — she thought she was leaving something behind that would always be there. She came back more than 20 years later after a divorce, shocked to find that the tourism center had closed, shuttered in 1999 after bleeding money for years.

Since then the reservation has been hobbling along. The tribe didn't have its casino long enough to find out if it would have become the cure-all they'd dreamed of, and now it seems they might never find out for sure.

Federally recognized tribes are viewed by the federal government as tribal nations, separate but dependent on federal funds to survive. Despite this need, Indian services are often among the first programs on the chopping block when the federal budget needs to be trimmed. Sen. John McCain decried such a move after budget cuts were made in 2006. "The federal government has continually reneged on its trust and moral obligations to meet the educational, health-care and housing needs of Indians, and these needs far outweigh the imperceptible contribution that the proposed cuts will make to reducing the deficit," McCain said.

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5 comments
Puller58
Puller58 topcommenter

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

 
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