In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
I'm Jeff Haozous, chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe.
Can you share your Native name and its English translation?
My last name, Haozous, can be translated as a pulling up motion or the sound of pulling roots. My grandfather was named Sam Haozous. My father changed his last name to Houser when he was young. I changed it back to Haozous in 2001.
Where is your tribal community located?
Our tribe is headquartered in Apache, Oklahoma, in the southwest part of the state. Our members live all over the United States. In 2002 we acquired trust land in our homelands in southern New Mexico, and in 2011 that land was declared to be a reservation by the Secretary of the Interior. It is the first reservation for the Chiricahua Apaches since our last one was closed in 1877.
Where is your tribe originally from?
Originally our people lived in what is now southwest New Mexico, southeast Arizona, and northern Mexico. The tribe as a whole was referred to as Chiricahua Apache. It was composed of four bands named Chiricahua, Warm Springs, Bedonhke, and Nednais.
What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?
In the late 1800s the Chiricahua and Warm Springs reservations in Arizona and New Mexico were closed, and the tribe was moved to the San Carlos Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. It was a very difficult period for our people. Fearing for his life, Geronimo, one of our more notable members, left the reservation. This started a conflict with the United States that led to the imprisonment of our people and their removal from the Southwest to Florida, then Alabama, and finally to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where they were released in 1914. This nearly 28-year imprisonment is one of the most significant eras in our history.
How is your tribal government set up?
We have a General Council, which consists of all members of the tribe 18 years of age or older. The General Council votes annually to approve the tribal operations budget and to elect members of the Business Committee.
The Business Committee consists of six members including a chairman, vice-chairman, and secretary–treasurer. The Business Committee oversees the tribal membership application process, maintains the tribal rolls, prepares and manages the tribal operations budget, and supervises tribal government programs.
Additionally, the Business Committee appoints members of boards that are responsible for various aspects of the tribe’s operations, and when applicable approves the boards' budgets.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
How often are elected leaders chosen?
Business Committee members are elected to two-year terms. The terms are staggered so that each year two members are up for election.
How often does your tribal council meet?
The General Council meets on the first Saturday of October, which coincides with Business Committee elections, and as needed.
The Business Committee meets as needed, usually once a month.
What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?
I preside at meetings of the General Council and of the Business Committee. I represent the tribe in interactions with other governments and organizations. I’m also chairman of the Board of Trustees of our Economic Development Authority, which oversees our casino and government-contracting businesses. I preside over meetings of the Board of Trustees and provide general oversight for the authority as authorized by the board.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?
My family, as well as our tribe, has always emphasized the importance of education. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go to college and graduate school. This has helped me serve in my position.
Also, I worked in the business world prior to coming to the tribe. Through this experience, I developed the skills that help me to lead and oversee our tribe’s business operations.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
My father was my first inspiration. He taught me to work hard and to do my best and he emphasized the importance of education. My aunt Ruey Darrow, who preceded me as chairperson, was a great mentor to me. I was also inspired by the examples set by tribal leaders Inman (Cloyde) and Lupe Gooday.
Finally, although he died before I was born, I am inspired by the life of my grandfather Sam Haozous. He was taken from his homeland as a boy and held as a prisoner of war until he was 42 years old. He was released into poverty conditions onto an allotment in southwestern Oklahoma where he and my grandmother raised several accomplished, educated children.
In 1946, he was a plaintiff in the land claim in which we were found to be the legal successor to the Chiricahua Apaches in New Mexico and Arizona. The settlement of this claim led to the organization of our tribe as the Fort Sill Apache Tribe. He did not live to see the settlement of the claim or the subsequent restoration of our tribe. This example of efforts leading to benefits for future generations inspires me as I contemplate projects that I know will not be completed in my own lifetime.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?
Apache Chief Mangas Coloradas was my great-great grandfather. In 1852, he signed the only treaty ever made between the United States and the Apaches.
Approximately how many members are in your tribe?
We have 730 members.
What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?
Members must be descended from a person who received an allotment in Oklahoma after our people’s release from imprisonment, have one-sixteenth degree blood quantum, have a natural parent who is a member of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, and have not taken land or money as an adult member of another tribe.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
Our language is not spoken fluently on our homelands. We have language classes, but no fully fluent speakers.
What economic enterprises does your tribe own?
The tribe owns the Apache Casino Hotel in Lawton, Oklahoma; the Apache Homelands Smokeshop Restaurant in Akela, New Mexico; and Fort Sill Apache Industries, a government contractor.
What annual events does your tribe sponsor?
We hold an annual dance and celebration at our headquarters in Apache, Oklahoma, on the third weekend of September. This year it will be held on September 16 and 17.
What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?
We have very little land and few attractions except for our casino in Oklahoma and our restaurant in New Mexico.
How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
We deal with the U.S. as a sovereign nation in the same manner as other federally recognized tribes. We have no active treaties with the United States.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?
We have a rich culture and a deep history. If you can, please make an effort to learn about it. It doesn’t matter where you live. Call our offices and we can help you.
Do your best to get an education. If you plan to go to college, take advantage of our educational assistance. You are the future of our tribe.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It is my life’s mission to return our people to our homelands in New Mexico and Arizona, to provide jobs, then housing, then to establish the institutions that will support a community—schools, health care, cultural centers, etc. I realize that this will not be completed in my lifetime. I’m doing it for the benefit of our ancestors and of our descendants.
Photos courtesy of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe; used with permission.
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From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.