OPINION: 2022 offers promise for our Tribal community — and for East Texas

Published 4:44 am Saturday, February 5, 2022

Ricky Sylestine
Chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Tribal Council.

This is going to be a critical year for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, which means it will also be a big year for the future of the East Texas economy.

As the new Chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Tribal Council, I look forward to the work ahead and I am fully committed to the challenges our citizens face. First among those challenges is protecting our community from the spread of COVID-19, which has caused significant suffering on our reservation these last two years. As always, our Tribe has come together to care for and protect one another, but there have certainly been painful losses along the way. I am optimistic that we will continue to rally around each other as we hope that the worst of this pandemic is behind us.

I am also optimistic that this is the year we could secure a transformational victory for our local economy. Naskila Gaming, the electronic bingo facility on our reservation, continues to be a major economic force for our community. Naskila is responsible for 700 jobs and the Texas Country Partnership has estimated its economic benefit to the region at $170 million per year. For years, the State of Texas has fought to shut down Naskila Gaming and take away our right to offer electronic bingo on the reservation.

Fortunately, and with strong bipartisan support from the Texas delegation, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that would clarify and reaffirm our right to operate Naskila Gaming and keep our fellow Texans employed. All we need now is for the U.S. Senate to pass that same bill and ensure that Naskila Gaming (the second-largest employer in Polk County) can stay open. Considering that 80 community and business groups have passed resolutions stating their support for Naskila Gaming, I am hopeful that our U.S. senators from Texas — Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz — will help East Texas by pushing this bill through the Senate once and for all so that we can secure a stronger economic future for our employees and our neighbors.

We face other opportunities as well. Work will begin this year on our new Education Center, which will provide students with enrichment services such as college readiness classes and after-school tutoring. It will also include a library that can be used by any tribal member of any age. We are also in the planning stages of a new housing development to serve our citizens. While we are undoubtedly proud of our past, including a history in this state that dates back to the help we provided Sam Houston and his men during the Texas Revolution, we are also enthused about the future for our Tribe — especially our young people.

We also look forward this year to our continued relationships with so many friends and groups in the East Texas region. We are proud East Texans and we sincerely appreciate all of our neighbors who have stepped up and spoken out for our right to keep Naskila Gaming open. Let this be the year that our senators in Washington get the message and start to fight for our shared East Texas future, just as so many of our neighbors have by supporting our cause.

We believe Texans should have the freedom to play electronic bingo at Naskila Gaming, and hopefully by the end of 2022, that freedom will be secured. In the meantime, we look forward to another great year as part of this community.

Ricky Sylestine is the Chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Tribal Council.