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Texas Tribe Willing to Forgo $270.6M From Congress for a Casino

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Despite a 2003 federal court recommendation that Congress pay the Alabama-Coushatta Indians $270.6 million in compensation for oil and gas production, timber harvesting and trespassing on 5.5 million acres of its ancestral lands, the tribe never received a dime.

Now the 1,170-member tribe is willing to waive compensation and relinquish efforts to regain ownership of its ancestral land for the right to operate a class II casino on its reservation in Livingston, reported the Austin-American Statesman.

“What the tribe is willing to give away is huge,” Andy Taylor, a lawyer for the Alabama-Coushatta, told the newspaper. “We're willing to forgive the past and walk away from our rights in order to have some economic independence in the future.”

There are two other federally recognized tribes in Texas: the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, based by the Rio Grande River on the U.S.-Mexico border in Maverick County, and the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo of Texas, located in El Paso. The Kickapoo of Texas, the state's only tribe allowed to conduct gaming because it was authorized under a different law, owns and operates the class II gaming facility Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass. The Alabama-Coushatta and Ysleta Del Sur operated casinos before they were shut down in 2002.

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Now the Alabama-Coushatta tribe wants back in the game, and is willing to set aside the $270.6 million payment recommendation for it. Legislation (H.R. 1144) introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, in March proposes to delete a provision in federal law barring the tribe from conducting gaming as prohibited by Texas, extinguish any land claims and the payment, and approve any land grants by Texas. It also requires the tribe to withdraw a lawsuit it filed last year against the federal government demanding a stake in leasing timber, oil and natural gas rights in the Big Thicket National Preserve and the Sam Houston and Davy Crockett national forests. The measure has yet to receive a hearing.

“The tribe does support the bill,” Ronnie Thomas, chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta tribal council, told the Statesman. “We had a tribal referendum and that passed overwhelmingly. We'd have the right to conduct gaming activities on the reservation.”