By BARRY MASSEY
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) _ New Mexico’s highest court considers a dispute Monday over whether the Fort Sill Apache should be recognized by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration as a New Mexico tribe.
The federal government designated a 30-acre parcel in southern New Mexico as the tribe’s reservation in 2011, but the Apache governmental offices are in Oklahoma.
There’s a smoke shop on the land along Interstate 10 between Deming and Las Cruces, but tribal efforts to open a casino have been blocked. The tribe acquired the land in 1998.
The tribe is asking the court to order Martinez to invite it to annual tribal-state summits and to follow a 2009 law _ the State-Tribal Collaboration Act _ requiring sovereign government-to-government cooperation. The tribe also wants the state Indian Affairs Department to include it on the agency’s website as part of a contact list for all tribes and pueblos in New Mexico.
State recognition also would permit the tribe to qualify for other benefits, such as state financing allocated yearly for tribal capital improvement projects.
The governor’s lawyers contend the Apaches are an Oklahoma tribe because that’s where government offices are located and most tribal members live in Oklahoma. The administration also points out the tribe is listed as the “Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma” by the Interior Department in a directory of tribes eligible for Bureau of Indian Affairs services.
The tribe maintains New Mexico should recognize it because the federal government established its reservation in the state.
The five-member court is to hear arguments from lawyers in the case, but it’s uncertain whether the justices will issue an immediate ruling Monday or wait to make a decision.
Members of the Fort Sill Apache tribe are descended from the Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches, who lived in southern New Mexico and Arizona until removed by the federal government in the late 1880s. They were sent to Florida, Alabama and later to Oklahoma.
“Particularly in light of the tribe’s profoundly tragic history, it deserves formal recognition” by New Mexico and the benefits that come with that, lawyers for the tribe said in written arguments submitted to the court.
Martinez, like other New Mexico governors, opposes a casino on the tribe’s land in New Mexico. In 2008, Gov. Bill Richardson sent state police to the site and threatened to blockade a casino if the tribe moved ahead with planned electronic gambling machines.
The tribe maintains the court case has nothing to do with gambling and a possible casino.
“While the tribe may later seek to commence gaming operations on its reservation, this case is about recognition” by the state, lawyers for the tribe wrote.