'Lost Kickapoo Tribe' Seeks Arizona Status
One time wanderers who crossed state and national borders looking for a safe homeland away from the White man but along the way they disappeared. They are the “Lost Kickapoos”, a small band of 150 Indians who have lived on Arizona’s border with Mexico for more than 100 years and are finally reconnecting to their roots. Their aim is to become Arizona’s 23rd tribe.
The group, until recently, had almost no contact with its parent tribe in Oklahoma and their presence in Arizona has gone largely noticed by other tribal leaders in the state. Last year with help from the Oklahoma tribe, the Arizona Kickapoos purchased a building in Douglas just north of the Mexican border to serve as a tribal field office where they plan to seek “trust status” for the building, a process that may take several years.
If successful, the tribal land holding would make the Kickapoo Tribe the 23rd official tribe in Arizona and could make them eligible to participate in state gambling compacts. At this time the tribe has no plans to build a casino.
Historically, the Kickapoos are a Woodlands Indian group originally from the Great lakes area. As the white settlements encroached on their territory, they moved many times and ended up in Mexico near what is now Eagle Pass in Texas. Because their raiding parties went north of the border, the U.S. Calvary crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico killing most of the group and taking the survivors back to Oklahoma where a reservation was established in 1883.
In 1891 the federal government wanted some of the land back and proposed giving each member an 80 acre allotment. Two-thirds of the tribe refused their allotments and were called the “Kicking Kickapoos”. Some returned to Mexico south of Texas wnile others moved into Tamichopa, Sonora south of Arizona.
In 1910, facing famine, most tribal members went back to Oklahoma. Those who remained in Mexico were forgotten and then became known as the “Lost Kickapoos.”
Half of the current tribe live in the Douglas and Wilcox in Arizona while the other half still remains across the border in Tamichopa.
Jack Jackson Jr., a Navajo who heads the Arizona Council of Indian Affairs, said he never heard of Kickapoos in Arizona. John Lewis, executive director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, said he first heard of their existence a few years ago.
“I know they’ve been around for quite some time in Texas and Mexico,” Lewis said. “One of the interesting things about them around here is they go back and forth across the border and are considered to be U.S. citizens.”
Licelda Mahtapene, 30, head of the Douglas field office said the Arizona group descended from three men – two brothers named Mahtapene and a man named Okema who changed his name to Oscar. She is married to Jose Mahtapene who is half Kickapoo.
Tribal members from Oklahoma have begun to visit their Arizona and Mexican relatives on holidays to bring traditional foods and clothing as many of them have forgotten their own language and traditions.
Jesus Oscar Chanez, 63, proudly displays his Kickapoo ID. He and his daughter traveled to Oklahoma two months ago with a group of Arizona tribal members. It was the first time any of them had seen the reservation. They saw the traditional bark houses and met cousins.
“I thought it was beautiful.” Chanez said in Spanish.
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