AKELA, N.M. (KRQE) - An Oklahoma tribe with historic roots in southern New Mexico istaking its fight to open a casino near Deming all the way to thetop using TV commercials.
The National Indian Gaming Commission recently ruled the bingohall the Fort Sill Apaches are running just off Interstate 10 20miles east of Deming must close.
The ancestors of the Fort Sill Apaches lived in southern NewMexico for centuries.
They strongly resisted government control but the U.S. Armyfinally subdued them and removed them from their homeland in thelate nineteenth century.
Tribal leaders say they're trying to get their people back totheir native land and the best way to do that is through a casinothat provides jobs and cash flow.
“The people here with me today are fighting to build abusiness in the state of New Mexico," tribal Chairman Jeff Housersays in a TV commercial airing in New Mexico and Washington,D.C.
The Fort Sill Apache tribe has taken its fight to the airwavesto reach out to the one person the tribe says can help.
"President Obama, please don't let them close down the ApacheHomelands 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 facilitywants to expand and create what the tribe says will be about athousand jobs.
"What we are really trying to do is create jobs in an area thathas been really hard hit by the recession," Houser told KRQE News13 over the phone.
Last week the National Indian Gaming Commission slapped thetribe with a violation notice. The commission demanded it stop itgambling operations immediately, or be subject to a $25,000-a-dayfine.
"We don't have any plans to stop just yet," Houser added.
Houser said the tribe has a right to gamble on the land becauseof a 2007 agreement with the government restoring the tribe.However the gaming commission says no gambling can take place onIndian land acquired after 1988.
There are some exceptions. Restored tribes are allowed to set upcasinos, but the commission says the 2007 agreement doesn't makethe Fort Sill tribe eligible for that exception.
And there's one more twist. When the tribe took the land, itagreed with then-Gov. Gary Johnson not to use it for gambling.
According to Houser the tribe never promised to hold offgambling forever, plus it's not the state's call.
"The state has no jurisdiction on this matter, so really theonly jurisdiction comes from the federal government," Housersaid.
The National Indian Gaming Commission says it doesn't haveanything against the tribe having a casino but legally can't allowit.
The tribe filed a petition Wednesday in federal court to blockthe gaming commission’s requirement to shut down. Houser saidthe casino would be open Thursday night for bingo.
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