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Fort Sill Apache celebrate 100 years of freedom

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FORT SILL, Okla._Friday, lives and legacies were honored as the Fort Sill Apache Tribe celebrated one hundred years of freedom from the U.S. Government.

Around 80 prisoners of war from New Mexico's Chiricahua Apache Tribe were released from Ft. Sill on March 7, 1914. Because they were unable to go back to their homeland, the group established their own tribe, named after the post that was to be their reservation.

Friday was all about history and the legacy the tribe's ancestors left behind. The Fort Sill Apaches were displaced here as prisoners of war, after being transferred from several other states as far away as Florida. From Geronimo's grave to the artwork we all have on the backs of our cars, the Fort Sill Apaches have since solidified their place into Oklahoma culture.

March 7, 1914 was one of the most significant days for 80 people that would help shape Native American culture in southwest Oklahoma. Exactly one century later, the U.S. Government honored the Apache people that refused to give up.

"It's embedded in our hearts. And we need to realize that it will never happen again," said Elder Lupe Gooday

After they were released, the Apaches who were held at Ft. Sill were promised the post was closing soon and it would become reservation land for them.  But when Ft. Sill continued to flourish and stay open, these displaced people were left to fend for themselves in an unfamiliar land.

"There was a group of Apaches, former POWs that each got a parcel of land scattered around southwest Oklahoma and around Apache," said Jeffrey Haozous, Fort Sill Apache Chairman.

It took several federal lawsuits later and over 60 years before the Fort Sill Apaches were able to become a full-fledged tribe. But like their ancestors, including Geronimo who became resilient in the face of adversity, today's tribal leadership has also made progress.

"We just continue to grow to find ways to generate revenue to fund the programs that are important to the tribe. And those really are educating our people and preserving our culture," said Haozous.

Outside of the state they call home, there's still much work to be done, primarily in New Mexico where their ancestors originate. One thing that can't be compromised for this tribe is the pride in knowing how special their heritage is.

"It's good to be a part of Oklahoma, it's good to be a part of southwest Oklahoma, we have deep roots here," said Haozous.

"I'm very thankful for this day. We have a great history. It's a time to celebrate. I'm very proud of our tribe. And it's very important for us to communicate with each other and look to the future," said Gooday.

Chairman Haozous said that the future includes new businesses in and out of Oklahoma. He said the tribe still has goals for future gaming on their homelands in New Mexico, however, the battle to be recognized in that state must be fought first before they can move forward.

The centennial 5k will take place at Fort Sill Saturday morning with celebrations continuing in the town of Apache after that.

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