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Alabama-Coushatta Reservation welcome sign

The Alabama or Alibamu (Albaamaha in the Alabama language) are a Southeastern culture people of Native Americans. The Alabama language is part of the Muskogean language family, as is the language of the Creek and Choctaw people, with whom the Alabama also share cultural features. They were members of the Creek Confederacy, a loose trade and military organization of autonomous towns; their home lands were on the upper Alabama River.



A boy from the Alabama-Coushatta reservation planting Christmas trees.

The Alabama first encountered Europeans when Hernando de Soto arrived in 1540. (See here for other de Soto contactees) In the eighteenth century, the French arrived on the Gulf Coast and built a fort at what became Mobile, Alabama.

The Alibamu and Koasati tribes were part of the Creek Confederacy. They had less contact with British settlers than other Creek tribes did. They were the first to leave when British settlers swarmed into the area by the middle of the 18th century. Under pressure as well by Native American enemies, the Alabama and Coushatta tribes wanted to avoid the Choctaw in Mississippi. They moved into territories of future states, first into Louisiana and then into Texas.

Alabama and Coushatta towns were divided into "red" and "white" towns. The "white" towns were responsible for keeping the peace and for providing refuge, while the "red" towns were responsible for conducting military campaigns. Though they had "red" and "white" towns, the Alabama-Coushattas thought of themselves as a peace-loving people.[1]

In 1795, the Coushattas arrived in the Big Thicket area of East Texas. In 1805, nearly one thousand Alabamas came to Tyler County's Peach Tree Village in East Texas. The two tribes developed a strong friendship as they roamed and hunted their new land together. In the early 1800s, the Texas Congress granted each tribe two strips of land along the Trinity River. Their land was soon taken over by white settlers, leaving them homeless.

Sam Houston, the governor of Texas, recommended that the state purchase 1,280 acres (5.2 km2) for the Alabamas and set aside 640 acres (2.6 km2) for the Coushattas. The land for the Coushattas was never set aside. Either through marriage or special permission, many Coushattas went to live on the allotted land given to the Alabamas. The Coushattas who did not go to live with the Alabamas moved to an area near Kinder, Louisiana. Many of their descendants still live there today.

By 1820, there were three main Alabama towns and three large Coushatta towns in east Texas, in the region known as the Big Thicket. In 1854, the Alabamas were given 1,280 acres (5 km²) in Polk County. The following year, 640 acres (2.6 km²), also in Polk County, were given to the Coushattas. The Coushatta claim was disputed by white settlers in 1859. When the Coushatta lost the land claim, the Alabama invited them to live on their land claim. The federal government approved a large grant to purchase land near the reservation in 1928. It was granted to the "Alabama and Coushatta tribes". Since that time, the reservation has officially been known as “Alabama-Coushatta".

The two tribes also share cultural characteristics. In a hearing before the Indian Claims Commission in 1974, Dr. Daniel Jacobson suggested that the Alabama and Coushatta tribes were culturally related because of intermarriage. The Handbook of Texas reports that the languages come from the same stock, even though there could be some word variance. Origin myths focus on the interconnectedness of the tribes. One myth states that the two tribes sprouted from either side of a cypress tree. Another legend was recorded in 1857 from Se-ko-pe-chi, one of the oldest Creeks in Indian Territory. He said that the tribes “sprang out of the ground between the Cohawba and Alabama Rivers.” The symbol of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe is featured on their website: two intertwined waterfowl are symbolic of the connection between the two tribes.




The Alabama who relocated to Texas supported Texas independence. In gratitude, Governor Sam Houston recommended that Texas purchase land for the tribe when their existing land was overtaken by settlers.

They merged with the Coushatta to become the present-day Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. Although long under state trusteeship because the state controlled public lands, the tribe applied for Federal recognition, which it received in 1987 with recognition of its legal identity and sovereignty as a tribe. The law that restored its federal relationship also prohibited gaming that was prohibited under state laws.

The current tribal lands are in eastern Polk County, Texas. The Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, Texas' oldest reservation, located at 30°44′13″N 94°43′24″W / 30.73694°N 94.72333°W / 30.73694; -94.72333, has 18.484 km² (7.137 sq mi) of land. The 2000 census reported a resident population of 480 persons within the reservation. Currently, there are some 550 members of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.[2]


In Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town was established in 1936. The descendants of the Alabama who live there are linked also to the Muskogee Creek Nation.

Tribal Economy and Gaming

In the tribe's earlier years, gathering, hunting, agriculture, fishing, and trading were the main economic pursuits. In more recent years, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe has found the service industry to be the most beneficial way to generate revenue and jobs on the reservation. In 2002, the Tribe opened a convenience store, gas station and tobacco store on U.S. Highway 190. It is slowly becoming profitable. Unfortunately, the station generates a small profit margin and a limited number of jobs that cannot possibly meet all the economic needs of the Tribe.[3]

The Tribe opened an entertainment center for tourists. The center offered casino gambling. The tribe believed it satisfied requirements of the 1992 Texas Lottery Law that permitted the state lottery, horse racing, and dog racing.[3] The Alabama-Coushatta, a Christian community, allowed no alcohol in the casino.

The Tribe was successful in generating revenue and jobs. The center offered jobs to 87 Tribal members, greatly reducing unemployment from 46 percent to 14 percent.[3] Revenues from the entertainment center provided the Tribe with funding for health services, the elderly, educational opportunities for youth, social services, and housing. With the opening of the center, the surrounding region reported an increase in sales and tax revenues. For instance, car dealers sold more cars. The entertainment center benefited not only the Tribe, but also the surrounding regions by creating more than 495 jobs and paying 4.3 million dollars in wages and nearly 400,000 dollars in federal taxes.[4]

After the center had operated for nine months, the state brought suit against it in 1999. A Federal court ruled that the Alabama-Coushatta had to close their entertainment center. The federal courts made this determination based on the conditions of federal recognition in 1987, which banned tribes from gaming prohibited under state laws.

In July 2006 the Alabama-Coushatta sued lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates for attempts to defraud the tribe in seeking to defeat state legislation in 2001 that would have given them authority to run the casino. The tribe claimed the lobbyists had hidden their motives in representing the competing Coushatta of Louisiana, which ran their own casino, and mobilized Christian groups in an underhanded way. A Senate investigation in 2006 revealed that several tribes were defrauded of tens of millions of dollars by Abramoff and associates on issues associated with Indian gaming. The four tribes that Abramoff persuaded to hire him were all newly wealthy Indian gaming tribes. They included: Michigan's Saginaw Chippewas, California's Agua Caliente, the Mississippi Choctaws, and the Louisiana Coushattas. The Abramoff-scandal has received widespread public attention. On March 29, 2008, Jack Abramoff was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison for pleading guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials. Abramoff made a deal to cooperate with investigators to provide information about his relationships with several members of Congress. Federal sentencing guidelines would have called for a minimum sentence of 108 months in prison. Because of Abramoff's cooperation with the government, his sentence was greatly reduced. He is scheduled to be released from prison in December 2011.

Without the casino, the tribe has no funding for economic programs. More than 300 jobs have been lost in Polk County.[5][6] The Alabama-Coushatta tribe has been trying to gain state and Federal support to re-open the entertainment center, for the success of both the Tribe and the surrounding regions. Over the years, the Tribe has struggled to rebuild its economy in a depressed Polk County.

"We should be candid about the interests surrounding Indian gaming. The issue has never really been one of crime control, morality, or economic fairness...At issue is economics...Ironically, the strongest opponents of tribal authority over gaming on Indian lands are from States whose liberal gaming policies would allow them to compete on an equal basis with the tribes...We must not impose greater moral restraints on Indians than we do on the rest of our citizenry." - Senator Daniel Inouye, Senior United States Senator from Hawaii. [7]

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, passed by Congress in 1988 (after the act that restored federal recognition to the Alabama-Coushatta), established the framework that governs Indian gaming. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA, allows tribes to develop casino-style operations that could improve governmental services and economic conditions in Indian country. According to the IGRA, tribes have the "exclusive right" to regulate gaming in Indian Territory "except when gambling is contrary to federal law or when a state completely prohibits a form of gaming."[8] The IGRA recognizes three different classes of gaming:

  • Class I Gaming: Includes traditional tribal gambling, such as stick and bone games
  • Class II Gaming: Includes bingo, pull tabs, etc.
  • Class III Gaming: Includes large-scale gambling operations

Class I gaming is controlled completely by the tribes. Class II gaming is regulated by the tribes with oversight by the National Indian Gaming Commission. Class III gaming may be allowed in a state that allows large-scale gambling operations, even if it allows only low-level operations. Also, Class III gaming is subject to agreed regulatory procedures in Tribal-State compacts, which states are required to negotiate in "good faith". Without a tribal-state compact, no tribal casino can be permitted.

Tribes find fault with the provision about Tribal-State compacts, because under the Eleventh Amendment that calls for state sovereign immunity, tribes are not able to sue any state to enforce the requirement. Therefore, while the IGRA gives tribes the right to have casinos, the Eleventh Amendment gives the states the right to refuse to negotiate tribal-state compacts.[8]

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires that gaming revenues be used only for governmental or charitable purposes.[9] The tribal governments themselves determine specifically how gaming revenues are spent. They are used to build houses, schools, and roads, to fund health care and education, and to develop a strong economy. Indian gaming is the first and only economic development tool available on Indian reservations. The National Gaming Impact Study Commission has stated that "no...economic development other than gaming has been found."[9] Tribal governments, though, use gaming revenues to develop other economic enterprises such as museums, malls, and cultural centers. Therefore, Indian gaming provides substantial economic benefits in states where a tribe and state work together. Only in those few instances where states have failed to negotiate fair compacts in "good faith" as stated by the IGRA has the gaming process not worked.



  1. ^ Hook, Jonathan. The Alabama-Coushatta Indians. Texas A&M University Press, 1997.
  2. ^ "History", Alabama-Coushatta Website, Retrieved on 2008-10-01.
  3. ^ a b c "Economic Opportunities". Official Site of The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.
  4. ^ "Economic Development". Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  5. ^ "Plaintiff Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas's Original Complaint" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  6. ^ Suzanne Gamboa, "Texas Tribe Names Abramoff, Reed in Suit", The Washington Post, 12 Jul 2006, accessed 14 Oct 2008.
  7. ^ Wilkinson, Charles (2006). Blood Struggle:The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 331. 
  8. ^ a b Wilkinson, Charles. Blood Struggle:The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.
  9. ^ a b Darian-Smith, Eve. New Capitalists: Law, Politics, and Identity Surrounding Casino Gaming on Native American Land. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2004.

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