Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

10-9 Cazsino May Be Closer For Tribe

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We may yet see an Indian Casino at Akela, between Deming and Las Cruces. The U.S. Interior Department has announced it is reviewing all policies and directives of the past administration.
Some of those policies restrict off-reservation Indian gaming and have been responsible for blocking any efforts in New Mexico to establish off-reservation casinos.
In 1998, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe purchased land at Akela in an area where the Chiricahua Apaches once roamed. Because Geronimo and his band were unwilling to give up their land and autonomy, the U.S. government removed them in the 1880s to Alabama, then Florida and then Oklahoma.
In 1913, four years after Geronimo's death, tribal members were released and given the choice of either staying or moving back to southern New Mexico. Those who stayed became the Fort Sill Apaches.
Allen Houser was the first Fort Sill Apache to be born free. He became one of the most celebrated Native American sculptors of the 20th century. His life-size sculpture "When Friends Meet" is located on the grounds of the New Mexico Capitol Building, near the northeast corner.
The sculpture was donated by his family, along with the rights to 20 ten-inch maquettes which were sold to raise funds for the Capitol Arts Foundation. Houser's sons, Bob and Philip Haozous, are both successful sculptors today. Houser died several years ago. His wife still lives in Santa Fe.
The Fort Sill Apaches operate a casino in Lawton, Oklahoma. They planned to open a casino at Akela also. Several years ago, they successfully made their case to the Department of the Interior to put the land in trust for them.
That should have made it possible for the tribe to put a casino on the property. But in July, National Indian Gaming Commission Chairman Philip Hogan ruled that the tribe couldn't have free use of its land because there had been no break in the government-to-government relations between the tribe and the United States.
The ruling is difficult to comprehend. The Chiricahua Apaches had no government during their 27 years in captivity. In 1914, they were organized as the Fort Sill Apaches, not the Chiricahua Apaches. That certainly sounds like a break in relations.
The tribe has appealed that decision and has asked for a hearing before the entire three-member commission. The tribe also contends that since Hogan is an appointee of the George Bush administration and is leaving the commission, he should not make such a significant decision.
It appears the Obama Interior Department review of the previous administration's policies and directives could help the tribe's position. But just in case, the tribe has filed suit in U.S. district court to force the commission to recognize the tribe's right to establish a casino at Akela.
The Apaches also bought television ads in the Albuquerque and Washington, D.C., markets asking President Barack Obama to keep the casino open.
Actually, the casino, which was only a small bingo operation, is now closed through an agreement reached early this week between the tribe and the National Indian Gaming Commission, pending the tribe's appeal. Since the parties are talking, that may mean the tribe is making progress.
Reopening the Akela operation would not be good news for the Bill Richardson administration. When the bingo parlor first opened in February 2008, Richardson dispatched state police to block access to the property. In April 2008, the tribe reopened on a limited basis but Richardson stayed out saying it was a federal issue.
Gov. Richardson has expressed his desire not to expand gambling any more in the state than already exists. But the state only has control over racinos. Its only say in Indian gaming is through the negotiations of compacts with the tribes.
New Mexico already has too much gambling but from the standpoint of equity, the former Chiricahua Apaches deserve their shot.
FRI, 10-09-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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