Updated: Thursday, 30 Jul 2009, 8:56 PM MDT
Published : Thursday, 30 Jul 2009, 8:56 PM MDT
AKELA, N.M. (KRQE) - An Oklahoma tribe with historic roots in southern New Mexico is taking its fight to open a casino near Deming all the way to the top using TV commercials.
The National Indian Gaming Commission recently ruled the bingo hall the Fort Sill Apaches are running just off Interstate 10 20 miles east of Deming must close.
The ancestors of the Fort Sill Apaches lived in southern New Mexico for centuries.
They strongly resisted government control but the U.S. Army finally subdued them and removed them from their homeland in the late nineteenth century.
Tribal leaders say they're trying to get their people back to their native land and the best way to do that is through a casino that provides jobs and cash flow.
“The people here with me today are fighting to build a business in the state of New Mexico," tribal Chairman Jeff Houser says in a TV commercial airing in New Mexico and Washington, D.C.
The Fort Sill Apache tribe has taken its fight to the airwaves to reach out to the one person the tribe says can help.
"President Obama, please don't let them close down the Apache Homelands Casino at Akela. Save the jobs; protect the people," Houser goes on to say.
Right now about 20 people work at the casino, but the facility wants to expand and create what the tribe says will be about a thousand jobs.
"What we are really trying to do is create jobs in an area that has been really hard hit by the recession," Houser told KRQE News 13 over the phone.
Last week the National Indian Gaming Commission slapped the tribe with a violation notice. The commission demanded it stop it gambling operations immediately, or be subject to a $25,000-a-day fine.
"We don't have any plans to stop just yet," Houser added.
Houser said the tribe has a right to gamble on the land because of a 2007 agreement with the government restoring the tribe. However the gaming commission says no gambling can take place on Indian land acquired after 1988.
There are some exceptions. Restored tribes are allowed to set up casinos, but the commission says the 2007 agreement doesn't make the Fort Sill tribe eligible for that exception.
And there's one more twist. When the tribe took the land, it agreed with then-Gov. Gary Johnson not to use it for gambling.
According to Houser the tribe never promised to hold off gambling forever, plus it's not the state's call.
"The state has no jurisdiction on this matter, so really the only jurisdiction comes from the federal government," Houser said.
The National Indian Gaming Commission says it doesn't have anything against the tribe having a casino but legally can't allow it.
The tribe filed a petition Wednesday in federal court to block the gaming commission’s requirement to shut down. Houser said the casino would be open Thursday night for bingo.