Small band of former Oklahoma Indians could become Arizona's 23rd tribe

Tuesday, March 8th 2005, 6:04 am
By: News On 6

PHOENIX (AP) -- A small band of 150 Indians which has lived on the Mexican border for more than a century could become Arizona's 23rd tribe.

Until recently, the so-called "Lost Kickapoos" group had almost no contact with its parent tribe in Oklahoma and its presence has gone largely unnoticed by other tribal leaders in Arizona.

Last year, with help from the Oklahoma tribe, the Arizona group purchased a building in Douglas to serve as a tribal field office.

The tribe plans to seek trust status for the building, a process that can take several years.

If successful, the tribal land holding would make the Kickapoos the 23rd official tribe in Arizona and could make them eligible to participate in state gambling compacts, although tribal officials say they have no plans for a casino.

The Kickapoos originated near the Great Lakes and retreated south and west to avoid encroaching settlers.

Eventually, they were forced to relocate to Oklahoma.

A splinter group left and settled on lands in Texas and Mexico, and another group moved to the Arizona-Mexico border.

About half of them live in Douglas and Willcox on the U.S. side. Many of the rest live in a tiny Mexican village called Tamichopa.

John Lewis, executive director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, said he had heard of the Kickapoos a few years ago but didn't know what their state or national status was.

"I know they've been around for quite some time in Texas and Mexico," Lewis said. "One of the interesting things about them is they go back and forth across the border."

In 1983, Congress passed a special law granting citizenship to the Kickapoos on both sides of the border near Eagle Pass, Texas. But the law did not cover any members in Arizona, and for many years, they had trouble crossing the border.