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Alabama-Coushatta balance heritage, politics during Native American Heritage Month

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 12:13 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 24, 2021 at 5:59 PM CST
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POLK COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - November is designated as Native American Heritage Month. It’s significant in Deep East Texas, as it’s home to one of only three tribes in Texas.

The sovereign nation of Alabama-Coushatta in Polk County looks to its future, but strongly holds onto its past.

The Alabama-Coushatta say they are thankful to be proud East Texans, according to Yolanda Poncho, Tribal Council Secretary.

“There were tribes here before--the Kiowas, the Comanche, the Tonkawas. They were pushed to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma, but we were allowed to live here because of Sam Houston, so we’re very grateful.”

The Alabama-Coushatta is the oldest federally recognized tribe in Texas, with a heritage that members strive to honor.

Herbert Johnson Jr., the son of a chief says, “We’ve been here since the early part of the 1800s, later part of 1700s. And we’ve been a friend to the State of Texas.”

Yet the State of Texas has been trying to shut down Naskila Gaming for five years, a business tribal leaders say employs hundreds and generates millions.

In September, a federal court ruling allowed the gaming center to stay open.

And in Congress, a definitive House Resolution passed unanimously in favor of the Alabama-Coushatta’s right of operation.

“Now we’re looking to have the Senate address this and take this on. We’re in an appropriations bill at this time,” informed Nita Batisse, Tribal Council Chair to a group of regional leaders.

Increased awareness of often controversial Native American issues is observed nationwide. Widespread attention on political issues to heritage could influence lawmakers’ decisions.

“I think this year being with Deb Halland as the U.S. Interior, I think we have the greatest chances of getting now that Native Americans have a big stand and big voices in the United States I think we have a great chance,” said Johnson, who serves as public relations coordinator for Naskila Gaming.

Johnson’s father was principal Chief Herbert Johnson Senior who passed away in August. The tribe remains in mourning but will pull from his legacy to sustain a future for the tribe and where it lives, they say.

“We will continue this fight because we have the inherent right to help not only our people, but our community and importantly our friends,” assured Batisse.

Next week the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas will perform native dances and exhibit their art before the U.S. Coast Guard to further heritage education.

And on the political front, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a resolution before the end of the year or next spring.

To learn more visit the Alabama-Coushatta website. Other information on American tribes is available here.

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