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By Emily Banks Wooten
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas introduced its newly inaugurated chiefs Tuesday, beginning a new chapter in the tribe’s proud history.
Mikko Choba (Principal Chief) Kanicu Donnis Battise and Mikko Istimatokla (Second Chief) Poliika Istaaya Millie Thompson Williams were elected by tribal members in 2022 and were inaugurated into their new roles by the tribe during a private ceremony on Sunday.
“Our inauguration on Sunday was filled with people, well-wishers, family. It was almost like a family reunion for many of our tribal citizens and many who came to support both our Mikkos (chiefs). It was a good feeling,” Tribal Council Vice Chair Nita Battise said.
Mikko Choba Kanicu is a member of the Bear Clan and speaks the Alabama language. He was married to his beloved wife, Carol, for 51 years. Kanicu graduated from Livingston High School and then served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War era. He previously served the tribe as a member of the tribal council for two terms. Mikko Kanicu was previously elected as Mikko Istimatokla in 2019. The previous Mikko Choba Skaalaba Herbert G. Johnson, Sr. passed away in August 2021.
Mikko Istimatokla Poliika Istaaya is the first woman to serve as a chief in the history of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. She is a lifelong resident of the Alabama-Coushatta tribal community and is also a member of the Bear Clan. She was married to the late Kenneth “Woody” Williams for 47 years. Poliika Istaaya graduated from Angelina College with her associates degree in child/family development and has been an educator and health/mental health coordinator for the tribe’s Head Start Program for over 35 years. She is also a Sunday School teacher at the Indian Village Assembly of God Church, leading the classes in the Alabama language.
“This is a historical moment for me as a woman. I never though this is where I would be. As I was growing up, it was predominantly men, but today I’m sitting here in front of you. This is exciting. I was nervous, very nervous, but excited, knowing that God had placed me here,” Williams said.
“This is a place of position that’s so high. This is for the whole people, the whole Alabama-Coushatta tribe. Things are going to be brought before me and you have to make the right decision. I’m proud to be the second chief of our tribe, very proud,” Williams said.
When asked what her approach regarding young women would be, Williams said she would like to encourage them.
“You can be whatever you want to be in life. You can go and reach for the gold, reach out for the stars. I would just encourage them and talk to them individually, one on one. The young people that are going to college, I would like to talk to them and tell them there’s life out there for you, don’t give up. Just keep on going and make the best of your life,” Williams said.
Principal Chief Battise expressed his desire to honor his grandfather, the late McConnico Battise.
“He was famous for building log cabin homes for the tribe, and he could do it without nails and stuff like that which I think is pretty good. He was also an interpreter for Charlie Thompson (principal chief from 1928-1935). They went to Washington D.C. to appeal for land and housing, and they were successful so I am honoring my grandfather. That is the least I can do. He did great things for the tribe,” Battise said.
“I am also a veteran of the United States Army, a veteran of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe and I am a member of the Alabama-Coushatta Veterans Association, and I am proud to be a veteran. Because of what we did, you are now safe, I think,” Battise said.
“I am proud to have a female chief because it is our history. It has been a long time coming. I’m glad to have her as a partner, as second chief,” Battise said.
While both Battise and Williams are big proponents of education, they were asked what other priorities they have.
“The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe would like to extend invitation to all people to come and visit us because we are here. We are one of the first people that were here. We have been here over 230 years and we will be here as long as I’m going, I guess for the next 230 years. I am proud to have this land and also proud to have Millie to be second chief as a woman. We want to move on. We want to tell the State of Texas that we are here, and we will be fighting for our rights and everything like that. We are here. We are proud people,” Battise said.
“I would love to share our culture with a lot of people. You know I used to be a teacher for 27 years and what I taught I would love to share. We lived in log cabins and I would take sticks and show the children how the log cabins were made and the pottery and the pine needle baskets. I just love to share what our culture is all about,” Williams said.
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas has the oldest reservation in Texas, located on approximately 10,200 acres near Livingston. The tribe is a fully functioning sovereign government with a full array of health and human services, including law enforcement and emergency services. There are more than 1,400 tribal members, about half of whom live on the reservation. The tribe is governed by an elected tribal council and advised by the principal chief and second chief.