The New Mexico Supreme Court [official website] ruled on Monday that the state must recognize the tribal status of the Fort Sill Apache [official website]. Consisting of 712 members, the Fort Sill Apache, formerly known as the Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apache, were forced from their homelands [AP report] in 1886 and relocated to Oklahoma, where they now have their tribal base. About 47 percent of the tribe still lives in Oklahoma. An attorney for Governor Susana Martinez [official website] made an official statement [The New Mexican report] opposing the ruling, claiming that the tribe does not have members residing in New Mexico, but now must be included in discussions about key issues in the state. Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous [official profile] expressed his satisfaction with the ruling and highlighted its significance. The tribe owns 30 acres of land in New Mexico and currently has 147 members in the state.
The legal status and rights of tribal groups throughout the US has historically been controversial and led to legal battles. The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in December on whether tribal sovereign immunity bars a federal court from enjoining a Native American tribe from opening a casino outside of tribal grounds. In August 2012, the UN called on the US [JURIST report] to work in more collaboration with Native American groups on issues concerning the sale of lands that are sacred to them, stating that it is a nationwide problem that Native Americans are struggling to gain access to sacred lands that they no longer own. In June 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that the federal government is not immune from a lawsuit by a citizen to prevent a particular use of “Indian Lands” retained in trust by the government.