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SANTA FE — New Mexico is home to the nation’s newest Indian reservation. Ever since Gary Johnson first became governor in 1995, the Fort Sill Apaches have been trying to establish a presence in New Mexico.
In the first month of Gov. Johnson’s administration, he signed gaming agreements with those tribes and pueblos seeking them. That same year, he also welcomed Fort Sill’s repatriation back to New Mexico.
In 1968, the U.S. Court of Claims determined that the land in Southern New Mexico west of the Rio Grande was the tribe’s legally defined homeland. In 2002, the last year of Gov. Johnson’s administration, the tribe purchased land at Akela, N.M., on Interstate 10, between Las Cruces and Deming which is within its legally defined homeland.
According to the tribe’s website, the federal government approved the purchase as Indian trust land. Tribes can purchase land anywhere they want. It is done often and sometimes in areas that would be very attractive for a casino. But getting it approved for that purpose is another matter.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is careful to obtain agreement from the governor of a state where the bureau is considering taking an action. Presumably the Bureau obtained Gov. Johnson’s approval to declare the purchase as Indian trust land.
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