New Mexico's high court rules to recognize Fort Sill Apaches - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

New Mexico's high court rules to recognize Fort Sill Apaches

APACHE, Okla._ Fort Sill Apache tribal members are celebrating after New Mexico's Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that the state must honor the legitimacy of the tribe.

This new ruling comes after the tribe sued Governor Susana Martinez last month after fighting for three years to be recognized.

"This decision has led some people to ask when they can move there," says Jeff Haozous, tribal chairman, who is fresh off his visit to New Mexico.

"Our people have longed to return to their homeland and never had the opportunity," says Haozous.

Now, new hope for the first time since the Fort Sill Apaches, then known as the Chiracahuas, were removed from the state at gunpoint and held as prisoners of war for 28 years.

"This is a turning point and an important milestone in the long process it will be to repatriate our people," says Haozous. 

The chairman says the Apache Casino Hotel in Lawton has been a good source of income for the tribe, and he's interested in creating similar success, eyeing up the possibility of a gaming facility in New Mexico.

"The plan is to see that we can create jobs, and then allow and provide opportunities for our members to have those jobs," says Haozous.

The tribe has had no luck in getting the casino approved. Gov. Martinez has already voiced her opposition against the project. For now, Haozous says he's happy the Fort Sill Apaches will have equal access to reap the state's tribal benefits as they look to acquire more land in order to welcome the native's home.

"In New Mexico there are programs available to provide funding for infrastructure for tribes, so that if you wanted to build housing, a sewer plant or a road, you can get that funding from the state through these programs," says Haozous.

With the tribe's new recognition, the chairman is expecting to receive his first invitation to the tribal summit in June, which is a meeting that brings together officials from all of the state's tribes and will give the Fort Sill Apaches a chance to share their vision.

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