October 2, 2020 David Dry
Before the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana became one of the state’s top private employers—with its vast landholdings and economic enterprises—they lived well below the poverty line and lacked any clear legal status.
After settling in the Bayou Blue in 1884, they forged friendships with their neighbors, sparked local tourism, and struck strategic alliances with civic and business leaders, aid groups, legislators, and other tribes. Coushattas also engaged the public with stories about the tribe’s culture, history, and economic interests that intersected with the larger community, all while battling legal marginalization exacerbated by inconsistent government reports regarding their citizenship, treaty status, and eligibility for federal Indian services.
Well into the twentieth century, the tribe had to overcome several major hurdles, including lobbying the Louisiana legislature to pass the state’s first tribal recognition resolution (1972), convincing the Department of the Interior to formally acknowledge the Coushatta Tribe through administrative channels (1973), and engaging in an effort to acquire land and build infrastructure.
Basket Diplomacy: Leadership, Alliance-Building, and Resilience among the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, 1884-1984 (University of Nebraska Press) demonstrates how the Coushatta community worked together—each generation laying a foundation for the next—and how they leveraged opportunities so that existing and newly acquired knowledge, timing, and skill worked in tandem.
Denise E. Bates is a historian and an assistant professor of leadership and interdisciplinary studies at Arizona State University.
David Dry is a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.