Long before there were cities or parishes or even streets, Cenla was home to several indigenous tribes of Native Americans who are still well represented in our area today. Among them are the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, the Jena Band of Choctaw, the Choctaw Apache and the Coushatta. We reached out to the various tribes, inviting them to share with us their vibrant histories and how the very first Cenla-ians have grown into the 21st century.
The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana is proud to be a contributing member of the Central Louisiana community. The Tribe has striven to be good community partners and effective community leaders. As owners of Paragon Casino Resort, Louisiana’s first land-based casino, the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana continues to make a positive impact in Central Louisiana and neighboring communities, while keeping its heritage, roots and culture intact.
The Tunica-Biloxi people originated from the Mississippi Valley. In the late 1700s, the Tunica people migrated to Marksville, where they settled. The Tunicas were skilled traders and entrepreneurs. Present day, the Tribe boasts over 1,200 members spread throughout the United States, mostly in Louisiana, Texas and Illinois.
The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe achieved federal recognition in 1981. In doing so, the Tribe operates its own government, which consists of a seven member council including Chairman Marshall Pierite, Vice-Chairman Marshall Sampson, Secretary-Treasurer Joey Barbry, Councilwoman-Brenda Lintinger, Councilwoman-Kathleen Ubnoske, Councilman Harold Pierite and Councilman David Rivas. The Tribal Government consists of the following departments: Housing, Health, Social Services, Museum, Tribal Administration, Gaming Commission, Judicial, Tribal Police Department, Political Action Committee, Economic Development Corporation, Tunica-Biloxi Holdings Inc, Education and Minors’ Trust.
“Cherishing our Past, Building for our Future” was the motto of former chairman, Earl J. Barbry, Sr. Barbry served as the chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe for over thirty years, which was one of the longest terms in Indian Country. Current Chairman Marshall Pierite is continuing on with a vision comprised of “Faith, Strength and Unity” in an effort to bring continued diversity and prosperity to the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and Central Louisiana.
The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe owns and operates Paragon Casino Resort. As the largest employer in Avoyelles Parish, Paragon Casino Resort has over 1,600 full and part-time employees. Paragon Casino Resort has been attracting gamers from across the country for 20 years. Paragon features many amenities and attractions including three luxurious hotel towers, Spa La Vie, a full-service spa and salon, an indoor tropical pool with swim-up bar, a three-screen movie theater, Tamahka Trails—an 18-hole, par 71 golf course—and a soaring bayou themed hotel atrium, complete with live alligators and cypress trees.
On June 3rd, Paragon Casino Resort will mark its 20th year; however, the celebration has already begun and will continue all year long! As part of the celebration, Paragon is bringing even more excitement to the casino floor with over 300 of the newest slots. Many are currently exclusive to Paragon. June is Paragon’s official anniversary month, and that’s when the public will have the opportunity to marvel in a massive fireworks display and a parking garage roof-top party with nationally acclaimed, Louisiana based rock band, Cowboy Mouth.
In keeping with native traditions, Tribal members are in the process of hosting the 19th Annual Tunica-Biloxi Pow Wow at the Chief Joseph “Alcide” Pow Wow Grounds on the reservation, next to Paragon Casino in Marksville. The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana and Paragon Casino Resort will host the cultural festivities, filled with authentic food, arts and crafts, dancing, singing and more. This year’s Pow Wow will feature special performances by New York native, Pura Fé. The event will take place May 16th through 18th. A full schedule of events is available online at www.tunicapowwow.org.
With assistance of the Tunica-Biloxi Economic Development Corporation, the tribal government is working diligently to diversify the tribe’s assets in an effort to make an increasingly positive impact on the economy. As part of the tribe’s shared vision plan, the Tunica-Biloxi Economic Development Corporation is in the process of constructing the Eagle Fuels Convenience Store and Dairy Queen. The convenience store will be a full-service fueling station and house a total of thirteen multiple position dispensers which will offer both gas and diesel, a full service Dairy Queen restaurant with outside seating, a smoke shop and a Louisiana/tribal souvenir area. “This initiative is part of the shared vision of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana as well as the Tunica-Biloxi Economic Development Corporation,” says Chairman Marshall Pierite. It is projected to produce approximately eighteen community and tribal jobs.”
The Tribe has also established a Youth Council Group to help groom and prepare young members for council and leadership roles within the Tribe. The youth group attends annual seminars with neighboring Native American tribes from across the country, coordinates holiday events/functions for elementary aged members, participate in tutoring programs, and most recently, held a candidate forum for the upcoming tribal election.
The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and management of Paragon Casino Resort wishes to thank all local residents for their support and patronage over the past 20 years. “We are proud to be part of this community and foresee an exciting, prosperous future,” states Chairman Pierite.
The Jena Band of Choctaw Indians call home the small towns located in LaSalle, Grant, and Rapides Parishes, nestled in Central Louisiana. The Choctaw people have lived in this area for centuries; long before the time of the Removal Act. The Jena Band became incorporated so as to establish State Recognition in 1974 under the direction of Jerry D. Jackson. Once state recognized, the tribe worked diligently to become federally recognized. Federal recognition was not desired so that the tribe could “prove” they were Indian, but for the health, education, and other community based benefits for which the tribal people would be eligible.
The road to federal recognition was more than a struggle in the political arena. For a tribe to receive recognition, they must maintain certain criteria as testimony of their culture. For this small band of “Chahta” Indians, it was a call to elders and tribal leaders to continue to teach the true culture and traditional practices to its younger members. The Jena Band of Choctaw
Indians finally achieved federal recognition status in August of 1995. It has been said by some tribal elders and current leaders that they were in shock when the news made headlines and could hardly believe it was true!
Since federal recognition, the tribe has worked to maintain their magnificent traditional culture. The tribe offers seminars and trainings on their unique traditional practices such as beading chinaberry necklaces, deer hide tanning, clay pottery making, basket making, and instruction in the Choctaw Language. Each year, the tribe hosts the “Pow Wow in the Pines” during the fall to celebrate another year of federal recognition. Other events which are important to the preservation and maintenance of the traditional “Chahta” Culture of the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians include the annual participation in the living history exhibit of the “War Of 1812”, held in Chalmette, the annual I.H.S. Easter Egg Hunt, Culture Camp, C.C.H.A.T.A. youth camp, Tribal Princess Pageant, and finally, the Tribal Christmas Party. Many other events are hosted by the tribal administration throughout the year for all ages as a tool to support the Tribe’s overall mission of providing for the general welfare and prosperity of their tribal membership.
Under the current administration, lead by Chief Cheryl Smith and her Council Members Ricky Jackson, Christine Norris, Christy Murphy, and Dana Masters, the tribe has accomplished some amazing goals. As most everyone is aware, Jena Choctaw Pines Casino has just celebrated its’ first anniversary of opening! The tribe looks forward to the upcoming celebration of the anniversary of the grand opening on the weekend of May 3rd, and hosting a fun time for its patrons during an outdoor concert and tentative crawfish boil.
The casino project was once only a dream to many of the tribe’s membership. Today, revenue from this vibrant economic venture has allowed for necessary benefits for the tribe’s youth and its elders to be funded. In the past four years, the current administration has also established other diverse economic ventures in LaSalle Parish, bringing not only additional funding to the tribe, but services to its members and the local community. The tribe has completed major highway projects connecting its lands for better use and provided more affordable housing to the membership. Tribal Council has also purchased additional lands and businesses which have provided stable income for Emergency Assistance funding as well. The tribe now offers a weekly AA/ALANON meeting at their tribal gymnasium on Thursdays at 7:00pm, which is open to the public, as one service designed to give back to the community.
Future plans for the tribe include bringing further economic ventures to both Grant and LaSalle Parishes. The tribe receives numerous requests to present business ideas from tribal, private and corporate entrepreneurs. The Tribe hopes to increase their land base—which is held in trust by the United States—as well as purchase additional lands adjacent to areas they hold sacred. It is the Tribe’s ambition to maintain their sense of community and preserve their identity as a people, a culture, and most of all, a tribal nation.
The Sovereign Nation of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana is a federally recognized American Indian tribe with approximately 900 members. The Coushatta people live primarily in the piney woods of Southwest Louisiana, an area they have called home for more than a century. As traditional agriculturalists, they grew maize and other food crops, supplementing their diet by hunting game. After the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto encountered a Coushatta community on a Tennessee River island in 1540, the Coushattas relocated several times, 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.
In 1797, 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 frequently, 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, where they have remained to the present day.
In 1953, the relationship between the Coushatta and the federal government soured despite earlier treaties with the tribe, and 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. 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.
After regaining federal recognition, the tribe began investing in a variety of enterprises in order to provide revenue and jobs for community members, as well as health, educational, social and cultural programs to serve the tribal and surrounding communities. Among these enterprises is Coushatta Casino Resort, which opened in 1995, and has grown to be the second largest private employer in the state. Coushatta Casino Resort is located in Kinder on US Highway 165. It features over 2800 slots and 70 table games, plus a 22-table live poker room, over 900 luxurious hotel rooms, six on-site restaurants, and award-winning championship golf course, plus amenities for guests.
The Coushatta have always been a proud people, retaining many of their rich cultural traditions and practices over the past 400 years of migrations and hardships. Recently, however, modern technology and lifestyle changes have fostered a greater emphasis on learning and using English within tribal families, and placed the Coushatta language and traditions in jeopardy. In 2006, a group of 30 volunteers, mostly elders, gathered together and developed the Koasati Language Project under the Coushatta Heritage Department. Koasati, the name for the Coushatta language, was recognized as a vital part of the Coushatta culture that needed to be taught in classrooms and summer youth programs. The Koasati alphabet and a spelling system were developed and approved by the Koasati Language Committee. T-shirts, bumper stickers, coloring books, dictionaries, and even a phone app were all produced in Koasati. With new generations in mind, the importance of cultural teaching and language revitalization geared towards children has now become an integral part of the Coushatta tribe.
An annual tradition of the Coushatta tribe is the selection of the Tribal Princesses. Every November, a new Coushatta Tribal Princess and Jr. Princess are selected from among talented young women of the tribe who compete in traditional dress presentation, traditional talent, and both private and on-stage interviews. For the Coushatta people, the selection of young, distinguished women to serve as royal delegates signifies the importance of a woman’s role in tribal history. In ancient social organizations of the Coushatta people, clan systems were used to constitute political positions and ceremonial rights, and are descended only through matrilineal lineage. The Coushatta ambassadors for 2013-2014 are Miss Morgan John, serving as the Coushatta Tribal Princess, and Miss Sophia John, serving as Jr. Coushatta Princess.
Already in its 19th year, the annual Coushatta Powwow gives visitors a close look into the culture of the first people of America with generations of American Indian cultural performances. The Powwow is open to the public and is planned for June 13th through 14th in 2014, inside the Pavilion at Coushatta. This event attracts many visitors from all over Louisiana and Texas, as well as powwow dancers and singers from many tribal nations of North America, making it one of the largest and most prestigious powwows in the United States. The powwow’s Indian Art Market provides a shopping experience like no other in Louisiana, with tribal artists selling one-of-a-kind pieces ranging from jewelry to basketry to paintings.
One of the biggest misconceptions about American Indian groups is that they only existed in historical times; the culture and traditions of the Coushatta people confirm that they are very much alive and present in the modern world. For more information on the Coushatta tribe, visit their website at www.coushatta.org, the Heritage Department website at www.koasati.org, or for more information on the powwow, visit www.coushattapowwow.com.
The Choctaw-Apache Community of Ebarb is located in western Sabine Parish. Chocktaw-Apache Tribe ancestors have been living in this area since before Anglo-American settlement in the region, and prior to the establishment of the railroad town of Zwolle. Incorporated in 1977, the Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb was recognized by the State of Louisiana in 1978. Some notable families include: Procella (Procell), DelRio (Rivers), Sanchez (Santos), Martinez, Bermea (Malmay), Ybarbo (Ebarb), Sharnack (Ezernack), Rameris (Remedies), Leone, Padillia (Paddie), Sepeda, Sepulvado, Garcia (Garcie), and Cartinez. The current Tribal Council consists of Chairman Jason “Jake” Rivers, Vice Chairman Thomas Rivers, Secretary Pamela Cartinez, Treasurer Joanne Sepeda, and at-large members Ione Procell Durr, Rebecca Samples, Robert Caldwell, Susan Lee, and Reggie Ezernack.
Ancestors of the Choctaw-Apache Tribe began coalescing together in this area by the late 1700s. For many years, the people farmed and worked in the timber or oil industry. Trips into town, which was nearby Zwolle, were made only when supplies were needed. In the 1960s and 1970s, the states of Texas and Louisiana staked claim on over 180,000 acres of ancestral land. This forced the people to sell their land for as little as $25.00 an acre. The people were removed to make way for the creation of the Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Many of the tribe’s members continue to live within this territory in the municipalities of Converse, Noble, and Zwolle, and the communities of Ebarb, Blue Lake, and Grady Hill. The Tribe is one of the largest of eight officially recognized American Indian communities within the state. The Tribe is currently seeking federal recognition by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.
While many members of the tribe live within Sabine Parish, the remainder live elsewhere in the state and in the United States. The two primary schools in which Choctaw-Apache children are enrolled—Ebarb and Zwolle—have combined tribal student population of over 700, and both schools receive some funding under Department of Education, Office of Indian Education, programs.
The tribe is comprised of descendants of mission Indians of Texas, captive Lipan Apaches who were brought to the region during the French and Spanish colonial era, and Choctaw hunters who began migrating into the region during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Many of the Indian ancestors were natives of the Spanish mission and presidio of Los Adaes, adding a strong Adayes (Adai) identity to the Tribe. Oral history tells us that Choctaw ancestors arrived in the region in search of better hunting territories. Additionally, the first Indian agent of the Louisiana Purchase territory, Dr. John Sibley, gave refuge to Choctaw in an effort to protect them from persecution by their Creek and Chickasaw neighbors by moving some Choctaw families into the area.
Some members of the tribe continue to practice traditional ways of life, and create arts and crafts, including pine needle basketry, quilting, and hunting, fishing, and trapping. The tribe also has a vibrant food tradition, which includes tamales, homemade sausage, pepper foods, berry dumplings, frybread, and a variety of other morsels. Each spring, the Tribe celebrates this rich history as it hosts a powwow. The powwow is attended by many Indian friends from across the country, and is an alcohol and drug free event suited for families. This year, the powwow is scheduled for April 25th and 26th, and the general public is invited to attend and to enjoy the music, dance, food, and arts and crafts.
For more information about the Choctaw-Apache Community of Ebarb, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ChoctawApacheofEbarb and their website at www.choctaw-apache.org.