Cherokee Nation leaders gathered at Will Rogers Elementary School in Vinita on Friday to celebrate the first transfer of property from an Oklahoma public school district to a housing authority of a federally recognized tribe.
Vinita Public Schools transferred five city lots to the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation. Included in the transfer is the historic Attucks School building, which was built in 1916-17 and was the only means of secondary education for black students in Vinita from 1925 until after desegregation occurred in the town in 1958.
“The Cherokee Nation was a vocal advocate of Oklahoma House Bill 1334, which was co-authored by Chief of Staff and former state Rep. Chuck Hoskin,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “We hope that this transfer of property from Vinita Public Schools to the Housing Authority will set a precedent and pave the way for more school districts in Oklahoma to use this option so that they might preserve history, revitalize property for community use, meet housing needs of tribal citizens and leave a positive mark on public school funding for generations to come.”
Oklahoma House Bill 1334 was authored by Hoskin, of Vinita, and former state Sen. John Sparks, of Norman, who is also a Cherokee Nation citizen. The bill was signed into law on May 1, 2018, and allows public school boards of education to transfer surplus property to tribal housing authorities for the purpose of community growth and housing development. Through new housing construction, school districts are eligible to receive Federal Impact Aid for each student living in the homes built and owned by tribal housing authorities.
“A transfer of property from Vinita Public Schools to Cherokee Nation is the perfect way to showcase the positive effects of Oklahoma House Bill 1334, which include the preservation of historic sites,” Hoskin said. “The Attucks School site is a treasure to Vinita, and it is an honor to know the Cherokee Nation now has an opportunity to preserve this piece of history.”
In 1939 a Works Progress Administration gymnasium was added to the Attucks School building, and in 2009 the site was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Budget constraints ultimately caused the Vinita school district to stop using the building for school programming.
“Vinita Public Schools is very appreciative of the Cherokee Nation for their continued support of our school and community,” said Rusty Rankin, assistant superintendent of Vinita Public Schools. “Attucks has a special history and has served many students throughout the years. Budget cuts and time made it necessary to discontinue the use of an historical school; however, the Cherokee Nation’s willingness to preserve Attucks School will benefit our children in so many ways.”
The Housing Authority will now review development opportunities for the existing building and city lots transferred from the school district.
“We want to look at the best ways to serve the Vinita community while utilizing this space, and I’m confident we’ll find the best way to do that,” Housing Authority Executive Director Gary Cooper said. “We were excited to see House Bill 1334 passed last year so that these opportunities can be explored for community growth throughout the Cherokee Nation’s 14 counties.”
About Cherokee Nation
The Cherokee Nation is the federally recognized government of the Cherokee people and has inherent sovereign status recognized by treaty and law. The seat of tribal government is the W.W. Keeler Complex near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. With more than 370,000 citizens, 11,000 employees and a variety of tribal enterprises ranging from aerospace and defense contracts to entertainment venues, Cherokee Nation is one of the largest employers in northeastern Oklahoma and the largest tribal nation in the United States.
To learn more, please visit www.cherokee.org