Oklahoma Apaches Sue For Casino In New Mexico ‘Homeland’

An Oklahoma branch of the Apaches, removed in the 19th century from ancestral lands in New Mexico, wants to return with a casino. The state and the federal government are saying no. The tribe has gone to court.

An Oklahoma Indian tribe has changed its mind about running a casino on restored reservation land in New Mexico and is suing in state and federal court for the right to do so.

The 30-acre parcel near the city of Deming just north of the Mexican border about 105 miles west of El Paso was placed in trust for the Oklahoma-based Fort Sill Apache Tribe in 2002 and was recognized by the federal government as reservation land in 2011.

At the time of the initial acquisition the Fort Sill Tribal Council ruled out “gaming as a purpose for this acquisition,” and on that basis the National Indian Gaming Commission issued a decision in May prohibiting a casino at the site, a ruling supported by the administration of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

The commission also defended its decision on the grounds that the prevailing federal legislation, the U.S. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, generally prohibits casinos on trust lands acquired after the 1988 law went into effect.

The Fort Sill see it differently and have amended their original complaint against the NIGC to include the federal government and the U.S. Interior Department as defendants. The tribe also is asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider a recent ruling not to force Martinez to sign a gambling compact with the tribe.

The tribe argues that the no-gambling agreement stemmed from a 2007 dispute with the Comanche Nation over trust land acquired in Oklahoma. The Fort Sill are descended from Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches who lived in southern New Mexico and Arizona before they were removed by the federal government in the 1880s to Florida, Alabama and later to Oklahoma. The tribe contends that it agreed to relinquish gambling rights in Oklahoma in return for the prospect of ultimately opening a casino in southern New Mexico.

The tribe, moreover, argues that the IGRA rule doesn’t apply to land restored for a tribe that is federally recognized or land that was part of a tribe’s initial reservation.

“It’s the latest of a long string of broken promises by the U.S. since its agreement with Geronimo in 1886 to return our people to their homeland after two years of imprisonment,” said Fort Sill Chairman Jeff Haozous. “We are asking the court to compel the defendants to uphold this latest agreement that was made with us so that at long last our people can return to their rightful home.”

A spokeswoman with the Interior Department declined to comment, according to an Associated Press report.