Photo by Daniel Kramer
Sage Beene, a kid with long black hair twisted in braids down his back stood in a pink spotlight, playing a hand drum and singing a song he composed while about 100 members of the tribe and a few guests sat listening in the darkness. The song was a blend of everything - it sounded like the blues, like Buddy Holly, and like it could have been sung around an ancient fire centuries before Europeans showed up and pushed Europeans off their land and onto reservations.
Beene was the first to compete in the hand drum competition on Tribe Week, a celebration of the tribe's restoration to the federal government in 1987, but no one was surprised when it was announced he'd won the contest. He brought a feel to the music so that it sounded very old and completely new, like the tribe itself.
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The Alabama-Coushatta have been on this patch of land in East Texas for generations, reinventing themselves as the years pass. Now they are struggling against the forces of the modern world to hang onto who they are, but the deciding factor may come from forces far off from the world of the reservation - the federal government. Read about it in this week's cover story.