Tribes seek new tenant for school
By Dawn Marks
November 12, 2001
The Indian school on the prairie stands empty once again.
Chilocco, once active with American Indian youth learning skills for life now is quiet, its century-old limestone buildings sagging.
Tribal leaders know the value of the site north of Newkirk, both cultural and economic, and are trying to find a new tenant. Narconon, a drug-treatment center that uses the teachings of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, has moved its drug and alcohol treatment center from Chilocco to Arrowhead Lodge in Pittsburg County.
The five tribes that own the campus - Kaw, Ponca, Otoe, Pawnee and Tonkawa - have formed the Confederated Tribes of Chilocco to find a way to use the campus and surrounding acres and perhaps the money to do it.
"It's just a matter of finding something that will fit," said Wanda Stone, chairwoman of the Kaw Tribe. "It's going to take money to operate it."
The tribes hired a consultant to determine what would be the best uses for the campus. The report is expected by the end of the year. Possibilities include gaming, fun parks, a museum and an Indian junior college. Proceeds from any business on the campus would benefit tribal projects such as health services, scholarships and funeral expenses, Stone said.
Two security guards live on the site to prevent vandalism and the tribes are working with Narconon to repair some of the buildings. Narconon officials took parts from some buildings to repair others. Narconon used only part of the campus but had planned to expand to use most of it eventually, Stone said.
Each tribe has contributed an initial $4,000 to try to improve the grounds, although some of the buildings may be beyond restoration, Stone said.
When it was established by the Indian Appropriation Act of 1882, Chilocco was a school Indian children could attend for free, said Bob Chapman, president of the Pawnee Nation.
The school closed in 1980 because of low enrollment and the land reverted back to the Cherokee Tribe, which gave it and its 167 acres to the other tribes. The Cherokees also gave 830 acres from the surrounding area to each tribe, Chapman said.
In 1989, the tribes leased the land to Narconon. Stone said the first contract did not include an audit provision. Tribal leaders could not determine whether Narconon was paying the correct amount. The lease payment was based on a percentage of Narconon's clientele.
Chapman said the contract gave each tribe a few thousand dollars each year, but he did not have the exact figures. After mediation, a new contract was signed in January 2000 requiring Narconon to leave the campus within three years.
Narconon Executive Director Gary Smith could not be reached for comment.
Former students have many fond memories of the school, said James Edwards, president of the Chilocco National Alumni Association.
When Edwards attended the school from 1942 to 1947, about 1,100 students lived, learned and worked there.
"We did raise all our beef, quite a bit of grain," he said. "We were pretty well self sufficient. We had our own hospital."
Students kept the school in top shape through maintenance projects.
"That was part of their training," Edwards said.
Chilocco had an array of sports, including a recognized boxing team and a football squad that beat some universities. Many of the high school students at Chilocco were as old as college students because they started their education late, Edwards said.
Alumni are collecting memorabilia to try to preserve some of the school's history. They also would like to meet a few times a year at the site later, if the five tribes will allow it, he said.
"We do enjoy going back up there," Edwards said. "It was just a second home for some of them."