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Fort Wingate Is "Indian Country" Says Court

Navajo Nation

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has allowed the Navajo Nation jurisdiction over the Fort Wingate Indian School just east of Gallup, giving the Nation criminal jurisdiction over tribal members on the Fort Wingate site.

In 1999 a juvenile member of the Navajo Nation was charged with battery at the Fort Wingate High School, and McKinley County attempted to prosecute. The child in question claimed the county had no jurisdiction because Fort Wingate is “Indian Country.” This week, the New Mexico Court of Appeals agreed.

Paul Spruhan, with the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, says the parcel of land Fort Wingate is located on falls within aboriginal territory, and that most of the children enrolled at the school are Navajo tribal members.

“The Navajo nation feels very strongly that the Fort Wingate Indian school is within Navajo territory and therefore it and the federal government should make decisions as to how to deal with incidents at that school property,” says Spruhan.

The state could appeal the decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court, however, Spruhan says the Navajo Nation hopes that both state and federal governments will abide by the decision.