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Ernest Sickey held leadership roles for the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana for nearly three decades. He was a trailblazer in the evolution of Indian affairs in the southeastern United States and led his own community from legal obscurity to becoming the first tribe to be recognized by the state (1972), one of the only tribes in the nation to be recognized by the Department of Interior through administrative channels (1973), and laid the foundation for multiple economic ventures that have since placed the Coushatta among the state’s top private employers.
In addition to his efforts in advocating for his own community, Sickey lobbied the Louisiana legislature to create an Office of Indian Affairs, which he served as the first executive director. He was also among the founders of the Louisiana Inter-Tribal Council and Institute for Indian Development. Today, Louisiana is home to four federally recognized and ten state recognized tribes.
A key player in the broader regional movement in promoting Indigenous rights, Sickey was among the original members of the United Southern and Eastern Tribes. He testified before Congress, led efforts in establishing legal precedents around land claims and tribal jurisdiction, and has spoken before United Nations panels.