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Media Articles - 1990s

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A Capitol Outlook

By Elmer M. Savilla

Seminole Tribune
October 30, 1992

The Chilocco Indian Agricultural School in Newkirk, Oklahoma has risen again. Once a jewel in the string of BIA operated vocational schools, it was defunded in 1980, courtesy of Ron Reagan, and it immediately fell into disrepair. Maintenance equipment and machinery was stolen, a fire truck was driven off, doors and windows broken, and copper electric wiring was pulled out of conduits. By 1985 it resembled a ghost town.

The Chilocco Alumni Association tried in vain to have Chilocco reopened and in 1986 five local tribes joined together to form the Chilocco Development Authority (CDA) and they were successful in gaining ownership and control of the school and the 167 acres which it sat on. The CDA membership consists of the Kaw and Ponca tribes, the Pawnee, Tonkawa, and the Otoe-Missouria tribes.

Chilocco was created by legislation in 1882 and officially opened its doors to Indian students in January of 1884. The first class consisted of 186 students from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa and Comanche tribes who arrived by wagon train. Chilocco soon became self sufficient through agricultural and livestock projects. In 1965 boasted an enrollment of 1200 students from states as far away as Arizona, Montana, and Wisconsin who learned agricultural skills, dairying, animal husbandry, and industrial skills like welding, machine work, printing, and other specialties. It had a reputation of graduating fine students who returned home as useful citizens.

Chilocco now has a different mission in life, one which is as important as the education and training it once delivered-that of enabling Native Americans who are victims of alcohol and drug addiction to free themselves of their addiction and to live alcohol and drug free productive lives.

Narconon International, Inc., a worldwide organization which operates treatment centers to cure addictions, was contacted in 1988 by the CDA. In an agreement with the leadership of the five tribes, Narconon Chilocco New Life Center was developed in a joint effort on the renovated campus and buildings. Chilocco is set on 167 acres of beautifully landscaped school grounds and includes a lake, ballgrounds, and buildings of pink quarried stone. Narconon spent over 3 million renovating four of the buildings in order to begin operations. The renovated campus still maintains the Indian School motif in the belief that the spirit of the school and its long history of serving Indians will help bring a new beginning - a new life - for a new kind of Indian student.

Narconon Chilocco considers its' rehabilitation process as a "learning" process, so all clients are regarded as students, rather than as patients. The Narconon program helps students to fully and realistically understand, deal with, and solve the "life" problems which had led the student into the addiction to alcohol of drugs. Gary Smith, President of Narconon Chilocco, says that "We have developed Narconon Chilocco as a complete recovery center where students can get away from life's confusions and can have the time and space to create their new beginning towards a new life." Operations were commenced in July of 1990.

But Narconon has not been without controversy. Narconon was founded within the walls of the Arizona State Prison in 1966 using the techniques and teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, a noted author of science fiction books and westerns. One of his first books was "Buckskin Brigades", a story of early Blackfeet contact with the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1806. Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology, and therein lies the controversy.

Scientology has been publicly accused of being a cull brainwashing young people into becoming members, and generally profiting from them. Their main accuser has been the publisher of the local newspaper, the Newkirk journal, and the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), a rightwing narrow-minded group which generally opposes organized religions. The publisher, Robert Lobsinger, granted me an interview in which he accused me of being a "brainwashed spy" for the Narconon Chilocco cult. When asked for a definition of a cult, he said any group that has a Leader and followers is a cult. The Catholic church fits the description, and so does the local Junior Chamber of Commerce, he said. Lobsinger had also received a visit from two ordained ministers, one a Methodist and one an Episcopalian, who invited him to visit Chilocco and see for himself what the truth was. Lobsinger immediately invited them to leave, saying that they were also "brainwashed".

Because Narconon uses the techniques and teaching methods developed by Hubbard, CAN has opposed the operations of Narconon Chilocco. However, there has been no solid evidence to prove CAN's allegations, and to date Lobsinger has not visited the New Life Center. Oklahoma, as a result of the controversy was reluctant to license Chilocco as a treatment center. Narconon was willing to seek state licensing even though Chilocco is located on sovereign tribal land. For unexplained reasons the five tribes have been unwilling to assert their sovereign immunity on behalf of the school, and as one result, the BIA Area Office at Anadarko has seemed to side with the state of Oklahoma in demanding state licensing for Chilocco and accreditation for the treatment program.

Narconon Chilocco has had to prove that there is no direct administrative connection to Scientology. The only tie is that Narconon Chilocco requested and received a license, similar to a franchise, from Scientology to use Hubbard's method of treatment at Chilocco. The Newkirk newspaper publisher has used his paper to spread rumors and falsehoods throughout the community of Newkirk, and it has also created differences of opinion amongst the membership of the five tribes composing the CDA.

L.W. Collier, the BIA Area Director, has been helpful to the cause of Lobsinger and CAN by setting deadlines and demanding immediate compliance with state requirements, and in fact at one time he issued a shut-down order on 3-day notice. Collier privately told the tribal leaders recently that he felt that the Chilocco campus could be put to better use by establishing an IHS health center there. Possibly, but the treatment center is under a 25-year renewable lease which was approved by the Area Director and the five tribal governments. There may be a wrongful effort by Collier here to encourage more opposition to the treatment center.

Narconon Chilocco has been accredited as a treatment by the Commission for the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) and has received permission from the Oklahoma State Board of Mental Health to continue operations for the immediate future. CARF accreditation is recognized by the Indian health Service and with the go-ahead signal from the state, Narconon Chilocco seems now set to provide help to American Indians nationwide who need long-term help to overcome their addictions.

There are those Chilocco graduates who think there is a higher and better use for the Chilocco campus, but the truth is that the school stood forgotten and decaying for almost ten years before the CDA decided on a course of action. No Indian voices were heard in complaint until after the 3 million renovation took place and the doors were opened to suffering addicts. That to me, is a higher and better use for Chilocco than vacant and broken-down buildings.

Some say that it should be operated by and for Indians. The CEA is composed of tribal leaders, and they are seeking to encourage tribal drug and alcohol programs to refer their clients to Chilocco to take advantage of the 90-day program. This would fulfill the policy of "by and for" Indians. I encourage you to visit Chilocco and determine its value for yourselves. President Gary Smith invites interested persons to call 1-800-364-0018 for more information.