A sacred ceremony to welcome a new chief and second chief for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas was held Sunday, Jan. 1, at the Tribe’s pavilion off of US 190 east of Livingston. For the first time in the Tribe’s history, a woman, Millie Thompson Williams, was elected to serve as a chief. She will serve as second-elect chief with Principal Chief Donnis Battise, who previously was Mikko Atokla (second chief) under the late Chief Skalaaba Herbert Johnson Sr., who died in August 2021, at the age of 79, following a brief illness.
Battise, now known as Mikko Kanicu, and Williams (Mikko Atokla) were elected by tribal citizens in 2022. Battise is a lifelong resident of the Reservation and member of the Bear Clan, and is fluent in Alabama language. After graduating from Livingston High School, Battise served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He retired from the sawmill industry after 33 years. He previously served two terms on the Tribal Council and was a volunteer for the Alabama-Coushatta Indian National Volunteer Fire Department. He attends Indian Presbyterian Church where he is an elder and deacon.
“His hope is for the tribal youth to further their education. He also supports the Tribe’s gaming operation (Naskila) and the job development it creates,” according to his biography included in the inauguration program.
Millie Thompson Williams, also a member of the Bear Clan, holds an associates degree in child and family development from Angelina College. She works as the health and mental health manager for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Head Start program. A member of Indian Village Assembly of God Church, she teaches Adult Sunday School in her native Alabama language.
“Being supportive and making the right decisions for the Tribe is important to Millie. She hopes to motivate tribal youth to further their education,” according to the inauguration program.
While the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe also is governed by a Tribal Council, Chiefs are charged with upholding the customs, traditions and heritage of the Tribe. During the ceremony on Sunday, the two chiefs met for an hour or so with elders representing the 11 clans that make up the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. It was explained that in the meeting the elders would provide direction for the chiefs as they start their reign, which is a lifetime appointment.
In the Tribe’s history, only 16 chiefs have served: Long King, Colita, Ben-Ash, Tempe, Long Tom, John Scott, John Walker, Charles Martin Thompson, Bronson Cooper Sylestine, Kina Robert Fulton Battise, Colabe Atokla Emmett Battise, Oscola Clayton Marion Sylestine, Colabe III Clem Fain Sylestine, Skalaaba Herbert Johnson Sr., Donnis Battise and Millie Thompson Williams.
The three-hour long ceremony on Sunday is considered sacred, so therefore news media were not permitted to take photos until afterward during a meet-and-greet with guests. Hundreds of people were in attendance, including leaders from other Native American tribes, city and county officials, and chambers of commerce. The City of Cleveland was represented at the event by Mayor Pro Tem Marilyn Clay and EDC Director Robert Reynolds.
The ceremony included the presentation of colors by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Veterans, an opening prayer by Tribal Councilman Roland Poncho, opening remarks by Tribal Council Treasurer Ronnie Thomas, welcome message by Tribal Council Chairman Ricky Sylestine, introduction of princesses by Yolanda Poncho, recognition of clan elders by Tribal Council Vice-Chairperson Nita Battise, and the chief ceremony conducted by Delvin Johnson, Rochellda Sylestine and Dwight Battise.
Dancers dressed in their traditional regalia performed for the chiefs during the ceremony and the Indian princesses performed Indian sign language to a musical version of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Tribe elders also were invited to smoke a peace pipe with the chiefs.
About the Tribe
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 1,300 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.