LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Chairman Jeff Houser of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe of Oklahoma vowed to appeal the July 21 ruling by the National Indian Gaming Commission and promised to continue legal gaming operations at the tribe’s casino in Akela.
“We will use every means at our disposal to fight for our tribe members and the hard working people of New Mexico who need jobs,” Houser said. “We feel strongly that the NIGC’s decision was based on an incomplete understanding of the facts surrounding our tribe’s history with the U.S. government and the conditions under which we regained our sovereign rights.”
In his decision, NIGC Chairman Philip Hogan contends that the U.S. government never severed its relationship with the Fort Sill Apache when it imprisoned them in 1886, a fact that would affect its legal rights today. Houser called this argument patently absurd, pointing to subsequent agreements with the federal government in 1976 and 2007 recognizing the tribe’s right to run gaming on the land.
“How can you call 27 years of imprisonment and mistreatment a continuation of relations?” Houser questioned. “This ruling is a blow to all tribes that have placed their good faith in the federal government to correct the wrongs of the past, only to have their trust betrayed and promises broken.”
Under the law the tribe has 30 days to file a response with the NIGC. Houser said the tribe plans to file an official appeal and to explore other legal options to fight Hogan’s decision. In the meantime, Houser said the tribe will continue to run bingo at its Akela site.
“This battle is not about keeping a casino open. It is a struggle to create good paying jobs for local residents and bring economic development to an area that so desperately needs it. In tough times like these, states and the federal government should be using the law to empower employers, not to prevent them from creating thousands of opportunities for struggling Americans. It just doesn’t make sense”