Cherokee Nation, Vinita schools strike historic land deal

01/29/2019 12:45 PM
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The shuttered Attucks School in Vinita, seen here on Jan. 25, could return to community use now that the Cherokee Nation is in charge of the property. The school was donated to the tribe under a state law that went into effect in November. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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A land-donation agreement with Vinita Public Schools is signed Jan. 25 by Principal Chief Bill John Baker, left, and Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation Executive Director Gary Cooper at Will Rogers Elementary School in Vinita. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
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Former state Rep. Chuck Hoskin, the Cherokee Nation’s chief of staff, left, speaks with Principal Chief Bill John Baker at Will Rogers Elementary School in Vinita on Jan. 25. Hoskin attended the signing of a land deal that allowed the tribe to have the shuttered Attucks School. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
VINITA – In what tribal leaders and educators labeled a historic moment in Oklahoma, a notable Vinita school building and surrounding property have been donated to the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation for development.

Five lots, including the 100-year-old Attucks School, also once called Southeast Elementary and later Attucks Alternative Academy, were officially transferred to the HACN on Jan. 25.

“It’s the first donation of its kind under a state law that was passed and went into effect in November,” HACN Executive Director Gary Cooper said. “That allows schools to transfer property to a housing authority for housing or other related projects.”

The legislation, House Bill 1334, states that school boards are allowed to transfer surplus land to tribal housing authorities. Former Sen. John Sparks, of Norman, and former state Rep. Chuck Hoskin, the tribe’s current chief of staff, authored the legislation.

According to those involved, housing is planned on the property located in the southeast corner of Vinita, in addition to “some type of community project” for the shuttered two-story Attucks building on 4th Street.

“It has been a very important building in the lives of a lot of Vinita citizens throughout history,” Hoskin, who attended the school as a child, said. “We’re going to redo the gymnasium. We’re going to have youth events there, possibly even Boys & Girls Clubs there. So, it will be a positive thing for this town.”

The school was constructed in 1916-17. In 1939, a Works Progress Administration gymnasium was added. The site was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

According to the Jan. 25 agreement, Attucks School “fundamentally served the black community of Vinita” for more than three decades, providing the only means of secondary education for black students from 1925-58. Following desegregation, the building was named Southeast Elementary School, then later, Attucks Alternative Academy.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Cooper and Vinita Schools Assistant Superintendent Rusty Rankin signed the transfer agreement.

“It’s been vacant for probably close to 12 years now,” Rankin said of the Attucks building. “It was our alternative school for several years. But due to budget cuts, we moved the alternative school to the high school, reduced staff, and it’s been vacant ever since.”

Hoskin said the worst thing for a building is to sit vacant. “The school system, to their credit, has tried to maintain the building, keep it up. Just a few years ago, they went in and renovated. The situation that schools are in today in the state of Oklahoma, having a building that’s not in use, but yet they still have to pay costs for, is not a good thing for them. So this is helpful to the school system. In the long run, it’s helpful to this community.”

School systems that donate land can benefit from federal impact aid, according to the House bill. The districts receive $2,800 per year for every tribal student living in a CN-built home, CN officials said.

“When we’re able to construct homes, the school also reaps some benefits by the children living in the homes and attending their school,” Cooper said.
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