New Trust Policy Leaves Tribe In Lurch
LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) _ Alabama-Coushatta Indians living on a 4,600-acre reservation near this community say they are on the verge of bankruptcy now that the state has dropped its guardianship of their tribe.
Another Texas tribe, the Tiguas, says it may soon face the same thing.
Both tribes have been under state guardianship since 1954, when the federal government relinquished its protection of about a dozen tribes across the country.
But Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox recently ruled the trust relationship is improper and that the reservation should be treated no differently from ″an Elk lodge.″
Alabama-Coushatta Chief Fulton Battise, 76, says the new policy leaves his 130-year-old tribe in jeopardy.
″If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,″ he said.
A suit filed over Mattox’s policy by the Alabama-Coushattas is pending in federal court in Austin.
Mattox said the reservation should not be treated as a ″beneficiary of the gratuitous trust relationship with the state.″ Such treatment, he argued, would violate the state’s 1972 equal rights amendment, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin.
Since September, the Alabama-Coushatta tribe has been forced to pay tax royalties from oil and gas production on the reservation and could soon face taxes on other properties.
The tribe already has lost $148,000 in state funding and $100,800 in mineral royalty taxes from which it was previously exempt. And the tourist trade, which once poured substantial funds into the tribe’s coffers - has fallen into a slump, resulting in a $260,000 loss.
Now, the tribe is nearly broke.
″Something has got to happen quick,″ said Russell DaMetz, the tribe’s finance officer and one of only two non-Indian staff members.
DaMetz said the tribe has enough money to remain solvent until June and predicted it will be short $2.3 million by August.
Members of the Tigua tribe, who live on a reservation near El Paso, fear they will meet a similar fate.
Tourism and pottery sales kept both the Tiguas and the Alabama-Coushattas self-sufficient until the industry dipped two years ago.
The state had been giving the tribes up to $260,000 a year to pay for state employees, many of them Indians, to oversee reservation operations.
But the fund cutoff may mean the tribes could one day lose their land.
″The land is our base, our home. If not for the reservation, where would we be?″ asked Carol Battise, 34, a bookkeeper who grew up on the Tigua reservation. ″If you met me on the sidewalks of Houston, you would probably think I was a Mexican-American because of my dark skin. But here I have an identity. Don’t destroy our tribe and separate our people.″
Two Texas congressmen have introduced a bill proposing the federal government once again become guardian for the two tribes. But until lawmakers decide on the bill, the Indians say they will do whatever is in their power to keep their land.
″We will protect what we have left with the tenacity of a mother bear (that) protects her cubs,″ said Manuel Sivas, governor of the Tiguas.