It’s time for Texas leadership to listen.

Today, our country and State are in the midst of a health pandemic, an economic recession with high unemployment, and unrest in the streets as thousands demand their voices and the voices of the marginalized be heard. For far too long communities of color and certain regions of the State have not been a priority for our State’s leadership. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas located near Livingston, Texas, is one of those communities.

The Alabama-Coushatta are a federally recognized Indian Nation and have called parts of what is now east Texas their home since 1807. The Tribe has a rich and valued history of being great neighbors to the brethren of east Texas. The Tribe was recognized by General Sam Houston for helping Texans in our fight for Texas independence. In 2017, the Tribe jumped to the aid of fellow Texans following the impact of Hurricane Harvey by donating $500,000 to neighboring counties. Most recently during the Onalaska, Texas tornado, the Alabama-Coushatta provided Tribal First Responders to aid local emergency service providers, food and water for all first responders, and food donations to assist the Center of Hope with their community outreach. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tribe supported our east Texas neighbors with volunteers and monetary support to the Southeast Texas Food Bank in Beaumont and monetary support for manufacturing of respirators to fight COVID-19. The Tribe provided these direct assistance efforts while continuing to pay their employees at its Naskila electronic bingo facility while the operation was closed, keeping numerous families off unemployment, and saving the State of Texas hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Senator John Cornyn recently tweeted on the importance of listening, stating “it’s critical now more than ever that we all take the time to listen.” As elected officials representing deep east Texas, we hope that our Senator will take the time to listen and support the needs of all of his deep east Texas constituents, including the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.

The Tribe would like nothing more than to create a self-sustaining economy for its people and the surrounding area. As the second-largest employer in Polk County, the Tribe and Naskila are a critical part of our region’s economic base. Naskila alone is responsible for creating over 700 jobs and providing $170 million annually to the local economy. Without action in the U.S. Senate, this is all at risk of going away. H.R. 759, legislation that passed the House of Representatives unanimously last summer, will right a wrong imposed on the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe and finally put this Tribe on equal footing with other Tribes across the nation and in Texas.

Instead of taking the time to listen, Senator Cornyn has chosen the easy path of looking the other way by repeatedly saying this matter is a “state” issue. H.R. 759 resolves a disparity between two conflicting Federal Statutes, making it a federal issue, which was fully understood by Congressman Brian Babin and the House of Representatives. We would like the Senator to listen to the voices in our region on the important role the Tribe plays in our community.

The current social climate in this country has highlighted the injustices faced by people and communities who have simply been neglected and ignored by elected officials for years. We must strive to do better and commit to treating everyone fairly and equally. If America truly is the Land of Opportunity, then we must allow everyone the opportunity to realize the American Dream. The people of east Texas stand with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe and demand their voices be heard and no longer ignored.