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Feature: Alabama-Coushatta Tribe faces an uncertain future

Filed Under: National | Politics
More on: alabama-coushatta, bia, ihs, sequestration, texas

The Houston Press runs a lengthy feature on the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, touching on a wide range of issues, including the devastating effects of sequestration on the reservation and the limited economic opportunities:
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.

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.

Get the Story:
The Alabama-Coushatta Still Exist and Are Doing What They Need to Do to Continue (The Houston Press 11/13)

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