Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Chiefs inauguration observes tradition for benefit of future generations

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Published: Jan. 1, 2020 at 10:49 PM CST
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POLK COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - The significance of New Year’s Day is magnified when a lifetime role begins for new chiefs of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.

Herbert Johnson Sr. is the new principal chief. The 77-year old moves up from the Second Chief position, now held by 74-year-old Donnis Battise.

“Today is my special day,” said Battise as he prepared his entrance. “And what it means to me is, I’m beginning a life as a chief.”

“It's going to mean a lot to me because this is a big experience," said Principal Chief Johnson.

Ancient ceremonial dances and chants reach a new generation that's held with the responsibility to carry on the sacred traditions.

The elder statesmen have no council vote but are influential with the direction the tribe takes. Their goals reflect their roots.

"We don't want to lose our language. We want to stay with our language," said Johnson.

Battise shares with Johnson the other goal of education.

"My goal is to educate little kids and the health and well-being of the tribe," said Battise.

A youth council leader made it mandatory for over 30 young people to attend the inauguration ceremony. College student Cole Whitethunder sets an example to young ones to seek a higher education.

“We have 80% native youth that goes to education, further their education in college or trade school,” said Whitethunder. He’s pursuing a business degree in Arizona, with a goal to open his own restaurant.

An inauguration day emphasizes the importance of a secure future, without letting go of tradition for Cecilia Flores, the tribal council chairwoman.

"It means survival,” said Flores. “That we are here in the year 2020 and we are still thriving and we are still surviving. It is very vital and very important to our existence."

About the Chiefs

Herbert Johnson Sr., Principal Chief

Former Tribal Council Member

Retired Tribal Security Director

Certification from Kilgore College and Angelina Criminal Justice Center

Attended Jacksonville Baptist College on a basketball scholarship

Donnis Battise, Second Chief

Former Tribal Council Member

U.S. Army during the Vietnam War

Retired from WT Carter Sawmill, US Plywood, Champion International and International Paper

Volunteer firefighter

Former youth coach

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