8-31 Geronimo's Children At Our Door
SANTA FE -- Geronimo's children are still knocking at our door. On July 21, the National Indian Gaming Commission issued an order telling the tribe to stop gaming at its Akela casino halfway between Las Cruces and Deming on I-10.
But on July 30, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma filed a motion in federal court asking that the order be overturned. The tribe also appealed the order by the NIGC, asking to be heard by the full panel of three judges.
So the game is far from over. Fort Sill tribal Chairman Jeff Houser vows to use "every means at our disposal" to keep the casino open. And there is no reason to believe the Fort Sill Apaches will be any less tenacious than their fellow Apaches at Mescalero.
The Mescalero Apaches, led by tribal chairman Wendell Chino, championed the original effort for Indian gaming in New Mexico, pushing the envelope at every point he could to bring full-scale gaming to the reservation near Ruidoso.
The Fort Sill Apaches were once neighbors of the Mescaleros back when they were Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches, roaming the desert of southwestern New Mexico, southeast Arizona and northern Mexico.
Because of Geronimo's continued attacks, they were removed, in the 1880s, first to Florida and then to Oklahoma. In 1913, four years after Geronimo's death, tribal members were given the choice of staying at Fort Sill or moving to the Mescalero.
`In 1998, the tribe purchased land at Akela, in the area that once was its homeland. The U.S. government put the property in trust for the tribe a few years later. That act gave the tribe freer use of its land than if it were merely a purchased piece of property.
Under some circumstances, it would have given the tribe authority to place a casino on the property. But a quirk in the law, which I hadn't heard before, disqualified the tribe from free use of its land because there had been no break in the government-to-government relations between the tribe and the United States.
Fort Sill Apache leaders are asking what that interpretation could possibly mean when the Apaches were held prisoner for 27 years. The only relationship during those years, in the interpretation of Chairman Jeff Houser, was a government-to-prisoner relationship.
Maybe government lawyers can finesse the meaning of those words but it certainly seems the intent is clear to find a way of preventing the Fort Sill tribe from opening a casino in its homeland. In fact, the casino is called the Apache Homeland Casino.
Gov. Bill Richardson's office is pleased with the federal government's decision to order the casino closed. When the tribe first opened the casino at Akela, in February 2008, Richardson dispatched State Police to block access to the property.
In April 2008, the casino reopened on a limited basis. Since then the state has stayed out of the matter saying it is a federal issue.
Richardson has said he doesn't want to expand gambling any more than it already is in New Mexico. Through renegotiated agreements with gaming tribes, a limit of six racinos in the state has been placed on horse tracks and a limit of three casinos each has been placed on tribes and pueblos.
The number of casinos and racinos in the state has mushroomed since Gov. Gary Johnson approved the first one days after taking office in 1995. They have proliferated to all corners of the state except the southwest corner. An Akela casino would be the closest to that corner.
So far, New Mexico has been able to keep pueblos from putting casinos on property purchased outside their tribal land. The Taos Pueblo investigated buying the Kachina Lodge in downtown Taos for a casino. The Jemez Pueblo tried to buy land near Anthony for a casino. Neither materialized.
But it could happen. In neighboring Arizona, several tribes have bought land near Phoenix and built casinos. The latest is a tribe that has bought next door to Glendale's new NFL stadium.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org