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Fort Sill Apache Tribe celebrates one-year reservation anniversary

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Jan 14 2014 07:49:11 PM CST

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Viña reports.

AKELA FLATS, N.M. -

It's been a year since Fort Sill Apache land near Deming, N.M., was designated as a reservation. 

The tribe bought the 30 acres of land in 1998. They've been working for more than a decade to build a casino there.

Tribal members are hoping to see the project completed as soon as possible because they say it's the only way they'll be able to fulfill their dreams of returning home.

"I wouldn't mind coming home. I wouldn't mind changing jobs, making a relocation. (I'd) teach my kids, especially my grandchildren, where they come from and show them these beautiful pictures of their family, their ancestors," said tribal member Dolly Buckner.

Buckner told ABC-7 she lives in Oklahoma, where most Fort Sill Apache Tribe members reside.

She hopes for a future where her children and grandchildren can return to New Mexico.

"It is our home. I think it's great we have a chance to start over," she said.

Before that can happen, tribal chairman Jeff Haozous said the tribe needs to find a way to make money.

"We really don't have a source of funding to bring tribe members back. The two sources of funding we usually rely on are federal government funds and gaming. We don't have either," he told ABC-7.

The tribe has faced plenty of obstacles in its efforts to build a casino, including Republican Gov. Susana Martinez who's expressed opposition to the project.

"Between now and then hopefully we get a chance to talk to her, show her how we

will benefit this area and show the support we have from the people in the area. There's still time before she makes a decision," Haozous said.

Another change Haozous hopes to see soon is the tribe name. He wants to change it to the Chiricahua/Warm Springs Apache Tribe to go with their new reservation.

"It seems kind of odd to have Fort Sill Apache thousands of miles away from Fort Sill," he said.

A new name, a new reservation, and tribe members hope soon there will be a new casino to bring them back home.

"I'm looking forward to it. I hope I live long enough to see a lot more, what we can accomplish," Buckner said.

Haozous said they hope to submit their gaming application to the federal government by the end of the year. If it gets approved at that level, it then goes before Gov. Martinez.

Even if Martinez rejects the application, Haozous said the tribe will continue to fight for a casino with or without her approval.

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