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Oklahoma-Based Tribes Looking to Expand Service Areas

The Fort Sill Apache Tribe and Delaware Tribe are looking to return to their ancestral lands which are located outside of Oklahoma.
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The Fort Sill Apache Tribe and Delaware Tribe are among the nearly 40 Native American tribes that call Oklahoma home after forced relocation.

Now, though, the two tribes are looking to return to their ancestral lands.

The Fort Sill Apache Tribe is composed of Chiricahua Apache who settled in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and northern portions of Mexico. Hundreds of tribal members were held as prisoners of war in Florida and Alabama before they were relocated to what is now Oklahoma.

“There has been a desire to return since we were removed,” said Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous of the tribe’s efforts to expand into New Mexico. Haozous is the nephew of well-known artist Allan Houser, whose artwork is seen throughout Oklahoma, including at the state capitol.

The tribe acquired a parcel of land in New Mexico in 1999 to operate a casino, and the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the state must recognize the tribe.

The expansion would mean the tribe is in three states – similar to the Navajo Nation, which spans four states in the southwest United States. The only difference, Haozous said, is that the Fort Sill Apache Tribe’s land would not be continuous.

“I think Oklahoma is home to so many of our tribal members, so we’re not turning our back on Oklahoma,” he said, noting that Oklahoma is where many people live but Arizona and New Mexico is where much of the tribe’s history remains.

About half of the tribe’s 720 tribal members live outside Oklahoma and another three-quarters live outside of the tribe’s headquarters in Apache, Oklahoma. But the expansion is not an overnight endeavor. Haozous has said he envisions tribal members returning to New Mexico over many years and possibly generations.

Meanwhile, 225 miles to the northeast, the Delaware Tribe of Indians is also trying to expand its service area into another state. The Delaware Tribe, which is headquartered in Bartlesville, has an agreement with the Cherokee Nation that the tribe will not try to take land into trust in the Cherokee Nation’s 14- county jurisdiction in northeast Oklahoma, said Paula Pechonick, chief of the Delaware Tribe of Indians.

“We’re just not a fully recognized tribe,” Pechonick said. “If we move to Kansas we’re hoping to get these things back.”

The tribe, which already has a Kansas headquarters in Caney, Kansas, about 20 miles from Bartlesville, has been holding regular tribal council meetings in Kansas and working with county and local leaders as it looks to expand its service area to 36 counties in the state.

By expanding, the tribe, which has more than 10,000 members, would be able to provide a range of support services to Native American elders, children and families.

The tribe bought property north of Lawrence, Kansas, and has been meeting with officials about potential partnerships, specifically in agriculture because the property’s soil is excellent.

“It’s important to note that our goal is to serving that jurisdiction area and serve all Native Americans with the programs we are able to. Rather than applying to just serve Delawares. We think we need to take care of all of the Native Americans,” said tribal council member Jenifer Pechonick.