- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - An Oklahoma-based American Indian tribe is asking New Mexico’s highest court to reconsider its decision not to force Gov. Susana Martinez to sign a gambling compact with the tribe.

The state Supreme Court denied the Fort Sill Apaches’ initial petition in March without offering an explanation. The tribe had argued that Martinez ignored requests by its chairman to sign on to existing compacts.

The tribe wants to operate a casino on land near Deming in southern New Mexico that was put into trust in 2002. It says it doesn’t matter that the tribe’s land hasn’t been federally approved yet for gambling.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Saturday (https://bit.ly/1G35cHG) that the tribe is now using statements by former Gov. Gary Johnson to rebut Martinez’s claim that the tribe had gone back on its word not to try to build a casino.

The governor’s office on Friday produced a memo to back up its contention.

In a motion filed early this week with the state Supreme Court, the tribe argues that Martinez was wrong when her administration claimed in court that the tribe had said it wouldn’t seek to build a casino in New Mexico. The motion quotes Johnson as saying this is a “myth.”

Johnson was governor when gambling compacts were signed in 2001 with several tribes and pueblos, clearing the way for casinos in New Mexico. He wrote in an unpublished 2012 letter to The New York Times - included as an exhibit in Fort Sill’s latest motion - that he was unable to sign a gambling compact with the tribe “for the simple reason that they had not yet won their case in court for a return to their ancestral homeland.”

Johnson also wrote, “I am compelled to make clear that there was no written or verbal caveat on (Fort Sill’s) prospective return that would have prevented them from establishing gambling on their 30 acres of New Mexico tribal trust land. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply a myth.”

Johnson signed an affidavit last month attesting to the authenticity of the letter.

His letter was in response to a 2012 Times article about the tribe that included a quote from a Martinez spokesman who said there was an understanding when the land was placed in trust that the tribe would not take part in gambling.

Martinez’s office pointed to a 30-page letter from the National Indian Gaming Commission to the tribe, in which the commission denied Fort Sill the right to open a casino on its New Mexico land.

The commission cited a 2001 letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which approved the tribe’s acquisition of the New Mexico land. The BIA’s letter cited a 1999 resolution from Fort Sill’s Tribal Council saying the tribe “was removing gaming as a purpose for this acquisition.”

The Fort Sill Apaches have appealed the commission’s decision. That case is pending in federal court.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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