Coushatta Tribe

A Sovereign Nation

The Sovereign Nation of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana is a federally recognized Native American Tribe with approximately 865 members. The Coushatta people live primarily in Louisiana, with most living in Allen Parish, just north of the town of Elton, Louisiana, and east of Kinder, Louisiana. A small number share a reservation near Livingston, Texas with the members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.

The Coushatta people have called the piney woods of Southwest Louisiana home for more than a century After the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto encountered a Coushatta community on a Tennessee River island in 1540, the Coushattas relocated, beginning a long series of moves aimed at avoiding European encroachment. By the 1700s, the Coushattas had resettled near the convergence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers in Alabama and had become part of the powerful Creek Confederacy. Despite this association, the Coushatta maintained their own culture and language and, throughout the eighteenth century, tribal leaders played an increasingly important role in Creek politics.

In 1797, the influential Coushatta chief Stilapihkachatta, or "Red Shoes," led a group of 400 followers to Spanish Louisiana and, in the spring of 1804, another group of 450 Coushattas joined them in the territory. Over the next several decades, the Coushattas moved their villages from place to place, crossing the Red, Sabine, and Trinity Rivers, in an effort to remain in neutral areas between French, Spanish, American, and Mexican territories. In the 1880s, a group of approximately 300 Coushattas settled at Bayou Blue north of Elton, Louisiana, where they would remain.

As the 20th century dawned, Coushatta leaders turned their attention to ensuring the well-being of their people and they began to engage the United States government in this effort. Years of lobbying paid off in 1935, as the federal government extended tuition funding to Coushatta children and, in 1945, offered community members contract medical care. Then, in 1953, the relationship between the Coushatta and the federal government soured, when, despite earlier treaties with the tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs terminated all services to the community without congressional approval or community consent.

Efforts to regain federal recognition began in 1965, as community members organized Coushatta Indians of Allen Parish, Inc. and established a local trading post to sell Coushatta pine needle baskets. In 1970, Coushatta leaders began petitioning the Indian Health Service to again provide medical care for tribe members. These efforts were successful in 1972, which was the same year the Louisiana Legislature granted the Coushattas official recognition. Finally, in June of 1973, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, under Tribal Chairman Ernest Sickey, once again received federal recognition from the Secretary of Interior.

The Coushatta were traditionally agriculturalists, growing maize and other food crops, and supplementing their diet by hunting game. They are known for their skill at longleaf pine needle basketry. After regaining federal recognition in 1973, they began investing in a variety of enterprises in order to provide revenue for their tribal government and jobs for community members. Chief among these enterprises is the Coushatta Casino Resort, which opened in 1995 and has grown into the second largest private employer in the state of Louisiana. The Tribe also operates a variety of smaller business enterprises, as well as health, educational, social and cultural programs, that have economic and social impact on the tribal and surrounding communities.

The Coushatta Tribe now owns roughly 5,000 acres of land in Allen Parish and more 1,000 acres in surrounding parishes. The land is used for Coushatta-constructed tribal housing, rice and crawfish farming and development of a new cattle raising program. In addition to residential housing, there are several other facilities on the Coushatta land, including the Coushatta Administration Building, which houses Tribal Government and the Tribal Finance Departments; a Tribal Police Department; and Community, Health and Learning centers.

More recently, the Coushatta Tribe has launched a major effort to take advantage of its status as a sovereign nation by reaching out to foreign governments to bring about cultural exchange and business development. The goal is to expand the Tribe's investment and business development portfolio beyond the gaming industry.

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