Fort Sill Apaches Seek High Court Reversal

The Fort Sill Apache recently asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to reverse its ruling that Governor Susana Martinez is not required to sign a compact with the tribe. Martinez claims the tribe said it would not build a casino on trust land near Deming, but tribal officials said she's got it all wrong.

The Fort Sill Apache tribe has asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider its March decision, offered without explanation, not to require Governor Susana Martinez to sign a gambling compact with the tribe. Fort Sill Apache officials said Martinez had ignored its chairman’s requests to sign on to existing gambling compacts. The tribe wants to build a casino on land near Deming that was put into federal trust in 2002. Martinez has said that Fort Sill is an Oklahoma tribe, and that it previously agreed not to attempt to open a casino in New Mexico.

Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous said, “The governor’s response to the writ of mandamus lawsuit was riddled with misinformation and falsely attacked the Fort Sill Apache Tribe. Her continuing smear campaign against us is just another instance of the discrimination and mistreatment that our people have endured since their removal from our land.”

In its motion filed last week with the state Supreme Court, the Fort Sill Apache said Martinez was mistaken when her administration claimed that the tribe had said it would not build a casino. Tribal officials quoted former Governor Gary Johnson, who signed the first gambling compacts with several tribes and pueblos in 2001. He stated in an unpublished 2012 letter to the New York Times, “I am compelled to make clear that there was no written or verbal caveat on Fort Sill’s prospective return that would have prevented them from establishing gambling on their 30 acres of New Mexico tribal trust land. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply a myth.”

Johnson signed an affidavit last month attesting to the authenticity of the letter.

His letter was in response to a 2012 Times article about the tribe quoting a Martinez spokesman who said there was an understanding when the land was placed in trust that the tribe would not pursue gambling. Martinez’s office cited the National Indian Gaming Commission’s 30-page letter to the Fort Sill Apaches, denying the tribe the right to open a casino on its New Mexico land. The NIGC cited a 2001 letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs approving the tribe’s acquisition of the New Mexico land but noting a 1999 resolution from Fort Sill’s Tribal Council saying the tribe “was removing gaming as a purpose for this acquisition.”

The Fort Sill Apaches appealed the commission’s decision and the case currently is pending in federal court.

In 1886, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the successor to the Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apache Tribes, were removed by the U.S. Army from their homelands in southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona to Florida, Alabama and Oklahoma. They organized as the Fort Sill Apache Tribe after a federal court affirmed their claim for the loss of over 14.8 million acres of their homeland. In 1995 and 2000 the governor of New invited the tribe to return to New Mexico, where it purchased property at Akela Flats in 1998. That land was taken into federal trust in 2002 and designated a reservation in 2011.